SAVVA POUROULLIS

Elon Musk bears many titles. So many, in fact, that it is pointless to list them. CEO of this group, product architect of that, chairman of something else, and so on. One of his more famous aliases is that of “real-life Tony Stark”. Known for his big ego and even bigger ambitions, Musk has a feature article in Perdeby because he is, in fact, from Pretoria.

The Pretoria Boys High old boy learned how to program on his own and coded his way to his first income by selling a game he made for $500 at the ripe old age of 12. To say that this set the stage for his future development and achievements is an understatement. Musk finished his high school career at Boys High and moved to Canada, from where he planned to gain citizenship in the USA. He obtained degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and from Wharton, starting another degree at Stanford but dropping out after two days to pursue his goals in internet software.

The first of these projects was his least ambitious, but still sold for over $300 million in 1999. At the time, this was the highest sum ever paid for an internet company. The project, called Zip2, allowed companies to post information such as directory listings on the web. Musk himself made a personal income of $22 million from the sale. This could be considered his baby steps into the internet scene.

 

He moved on to create X.com, later known as PayPal. Originally an online bank, it was later stripped down so that Musk could focus on a revolutionary new concept: secure financial transactions using email. The company grew and Ebay bought it for $1.5 billion.

 

Musk left the internet and software field to focus on more grandiose projects. In 2002, Musk entered the space industry by founding Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), hoping to reduce the cost of space travel and with the ultimate goal of colonising Mars. Musk’s company became the first commercial enterprise to dock a spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS) at a third of the cost of using a space shuttle. Since its founding, SpaceX has moved from strength to strength, signing contracts with NASA as well as other governments and private companies and is currently jointly responsible for supplying the ISS. Musk hopes to launch his company’s first crewed flight in 2016.

 

His pet project and passion, however, is the Mars Colonial Transporter, a machine whose function is clear enough. A famous photograph shows US president Barack Obama strolling with Musk on his grounds at SpaceX. The billionaire CEO has his jacket thrown over his shoulder as he chats to the president. Musk often outlines his dreams for colonising Mars, stating in an interview with PJ Media that he hopes to see life become multi-planetary. He went on to say, “Our long term goal is to develop the technology to transport millions of people to Mars, which will preserve the future of humanity in the event of a calamity on Earth.” It may sound outlandish and distant now, but many top scientists and leaders feel the same way. World famous physicist Stephen Hawking believes that humanity will not last until the end of the millennium if space colonisation is not achieved soon. Musk’s Mars Colonial Transporter would theoretically carry a payload of 100 metric tonnes to Mars. Colonists, who would pay $500 000 for a ticket, can expect a one-way trip to the red planet. If starting colonies on new continents was difficult, this will be magnitudes more complex and risky, but a worthy enterprise nonetheless. The US government is also developing something similar, but Musk plans to give them a run for their money, having essentially privatised space travel with the help of Axe and Red Bull, each of which have their own space projects.

 

Musk is just as much a philosopher as he is an entrepreneur. In the SpaceX head office, he works in an open-plan corner cubicle in a massive office hall filled with his employees, highlighting his emphasis for optimised communication and efficiency above comfort. He believes that “engineering is the closest thing we have to magic in the real world.”

 

Among other projects, Musk has also invested a great deal in Tesla motors, an electric car company, with the aim of making battery-powered cars a competitive industry. He has even co-designed some of the features of the cars. In June 2014, Musk announced that all of Tesla’s patents were available for anyone to use in good faith, with the hope of encouraging more development in the electric car industry.

 

He certainly lives by that philosophy, developing one technological marvel after another, shattering records in every industry he enters and leaving it a changed field. What is most unique about his approach to business and progress is his constant emphasis on advancing humanity rather than his own fortune, and encouraging (some would say taunting) massive, well established companies, like Boeing, and even whole governments, to compete for his goals.

 

Image: Brandon Dlamini

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