Elon Musk, born in South Africa 1971 is not someone many of us have heard of. In Britain he is not a house hold name by any standards yet he has affected many of our lives and will very likely continue to do so in coming years. Frequently referred to as the real life Tony Stark, Elon’s innovative ideas and boundary pushing technological advances could change the way all of us live forever.
Zip2 and PayPal
Early on in Musk’s career he founded Zip2, a company created to supply online news papers with business directories and maps. This was the same year Musk left Stanford University in California just two days after enrolment due to the belief that the internet had more potential to change society than work in physics. Just 4 years later in 1999 Zip2 would be bought by the computer manufacturer Compaq for the amount of $307 Million.
In the March of 1999 Musk went on to co-found the e-mail payment and online financial services company X.Com before merging with Confinity Inc who operated PayPal. Not long after this the company would go on to sell PayPal to the online auction site eBay for $1.5 Billion.
In 2002 after receiving $165 million from the PayPal deal, Musk founded a third company SpaceX whose main focus is to make advances in rocket technology. In 2006 SpaceX launched its first rocket “Falcon 1” followed by “Falcon 9” in 2010. These were both designed to cost far less than other rockets available at the time achieved their goal by a wide margin. In 2008 SpaceX was awarded a $1.6 Billion contract from NASA for 12 flights of the Falcon 9 rocket. A third rocket named “Falcon Heavy” is due to launch sometime this year and will have the ability to carry 53 metric tons, making it the most powerful rocket in the world.
But Musk isn’t just CEO of SpaceX, he is chief designer of the Falcon rockets along with the “Dragon” space craft (the first commercially built and operated space craft to ever be removed from orbit successfully) and “Grasshopper” (a reusable rocket that has the ability to lift off and land from the same launch pad).
After spending a long time interested in the idea of electric automobiles, Musk became a major funder for the company Tesla Motors. Two years later their first car was introduced to the market but unlike its electric predecessors which Musk found uninteresting, the Tesla Roadster was designed to be a sports car. It easily backed up this claim with the ability to go from 0 to 60mph in under 4 seconds and with a top speed of 125 mph using just an electric motor. Earlier this year in a great act of unselfishness Musk announced that Tesla Motors would allow the use of its technological patents to anyone who wished to use them in good faith. This could entice many vehicle manufacturers to speed up their development of electric cars or even spur them on into production where previously they would have avoided it.
Musk is also the main share holder in the company SolarCity which is now the most prominent solar power system in the United States. The company was co-founded by two of Musk’s cousins in 2006 after he provided the initial idea. SolarCity have since announced that they are purchasing the solar panel company Silevo with plans to create one of the largest solar panel production plants in the world.
Musk’s latest publicised idea was that of the Hyperloop, a brand new form of transportation which would theoretically allow people to travel around the U.S in less time than it would take in a train, boat or even airplane. This new technology could also provide much cheaper travel fares in comparison to any other mode. The system would involve passengers travelling in pressurised pods through tubes that use a partial vacuum in order to reduce aerodynamic drag. This means very little power would have to be used in order to run the Hyperloop making it feasible to run the system entirely from solar energy.
With this many success stories it becomes obvious why Elon Musk has become such an inspiration to many inventors and entrepreneurs. It is hard to compare him to anyone of this day and age without looking into the past at figures such as Isambard Kingdom Brunell whose innovation with bridges and ships allowed people to travel like never before. But with air and rail travel so easily accessible to many of us it’s hard to imagine what frontiers could remain without looking up. Elon Musk makes space travel for the masses seem like an obtainable goal for the future with his hopes to reduce the cost of it by a factor of ten. This, alongside his personal goal of eventually enabling human exploration of Mars show just how big his plans are and how important they could be for all of us.