South African entrepreneur Elon Musk is known for founding Tesla Motors and SpaceX, which launched a landmark commercial spacecraft in 2012.
Who Is Elon Musk?
Elon Reeve Musk (born June 28, 1971) is a South African-born American entrepreneur and businessman who founded X.com in 1999 (which later became PayPal), SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla Motors in 2003. Musk became a multimillionaire in his late 20s when he sold his start-up company, Zip2, to a division of Compaq Computers. Musk made headlines in May 2012, when SpaceX launched a rocket that would send the first commercial vehicle to the International Space Station. He bolstered his portfolio with the purchase of SolarCity in 2016, and cemented his standing as a leader of industry by taking on an advisory role in the early days of President Donald Trump's administration.
Elon Musk’s Net Worth
As of December 2017, Elon Musk’s net worth is $20.2 billion, according to Forbes. He earned his first billion with the sale of PayPal in 2002; his company SpaceX is valued at more than $20 billion.
At age 17, in 1989, Elon Musk moved to Canada to attend Queen’s University and avoid mandatory service in the South African military. He left in 1992 to study business and physics at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated with an undergraduate degree in economics and stayed for a second bachelor’s degree in physics.
After leaving Penn, Elon Musk headed to Stanford University in California to pursue a PhD in energy physics. However, his move was timed perfectly with the Internet boom, and he dropped out of Stanford after just two days to become a part of it, launching his first company, Zip2 Corporation. An online city guide, Zip2 was soon providing content for the new websites of both The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. In 1999, a division of Compaq Computer Corporation bought Zip2 for $307 million in cash and $34 million in stock options.
In 1999, Musk co-founded X.com, an online financial services/payments company. An X.com acquisition the following year led to the creation of PayPal as it is known today, and in October 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in stock. Before the sale, Musk owned 11 percent of PayPal stock.
Founder of SpaceX
Musk founded his third company, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, in 2002 with the intention of building spacecraft for commercial space travel. By 2008, SpaceX was well established, and NASA awarded the company the contract to handle cargo transport for the International Space Station—with plans for astronaut transport in the future—in a move to replace NASA’s own space shuttle missions.
Falcon 9 Rockets
On May 22, 2012, Musk and SpaceX made history when the company launched its Falcon 9 rocket into space with an unmanned capsule. The vehicle was sent to the International Space Station with 1,000 pounds of supplies for the astronauts stationed there, marking the first time a private company had sent a spacecraft to the International Space Station. Of the launch, Musk was quoted as saying, "I feel very lucky. … For us, it's like winning the Super Bowl."
In December 2013, a Falcon 9 successfully carried a satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit, a distance at which the satellite would lock into an orbital path that matched the Earth's rotation. In February 2015, SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 fitted with the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite, aiming to observe the extreme emissions from the sun that affect power grids and communications systems on Earth.
In March 2017, SpaceX saw the successful test flight and landing of a Falcon 9 rocket made from reusable parts, a development that opened the door for more affordable space travel. A setback came in November 2017, when an explosion occurred during a test of the company's new Block 5 Merlin engine. SpaceX reported that no one was hurt, and that the issue would not hamper its planned rollout of a future generation of Falcon 9 rockets.
The company enjoyed another milestone moment in February 2018 with the successful test launch of the powerful Falcon Heavy rocket. Armed with additional Falcon 9 boosters, the Falcon Heavy was designed to carry immense payloads into orbit and potentially serve as a vessel for deep space missions. For the test launch, the Falcon Heavy was given a payload of Musk's cherry-red Tesla Roadster, equipped with cameras to "provide some epic views" for the vehicle's planned orbit around the sun.
In July, Space X enjoyed the successful landing of a new Block 5 Falcon rocket, which touched down on a drone ship less than 9 minutes after liftoff.
BFR Mission to Mars
In September 2017, Musk presented an updated design plan for his BFR (an acronym for either "Big F—ing Rocket" or "Big Falcon Rocket"), a 31-engine behemoth topped by a spaceship capable of carrying at least 100 people. He revealed that SpaceX was aiming to launch the first cargo missions to Mars with the vehicle in 2022, as part of his overarching goal of colonizing the Red Planet.
In March 2018, the entrepreneur told an audience at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, that he hoped to have the BFR ready for short flights early the following year, while delivering a knowing nod at his previous problems with meeting deadlines.
The following month, it was announced that SpaceX would construct a facility at the Port of Los Angeles to build and house the BFR. The port property presented an ideal location for SpaceX, as its mammoth rocket will only be movable by barge or ship when completed.
In late March 2018, SpaceX received permission from the U.S. government to launch a fleet of satellites into low orbit for the purpose of providing Internet service. Ideally, the system would make broadband service more accessible for people in rural areas, while also boosting competition in heavily populated markets that are typically dominated by one or two providers. Critics countered that such a system would present a safety hazard with the skies above us cluttered by debris.
Founder & CEO of Tesla
Elon Musk is the co-founder, CEO and product architect at Tesla Motors, a company dedicated to producing affordable, mass-market electric cars as well as battery products and solar roofs. Musk oversees all product development, engineering and design of the company's products.
Five years after its formation, in 2008, the company unveiled the Roadster, a sports car capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, as well traveling nearly 250 miles between charges of its lithium ion battery. With a stake in the company taken by Daimler and a strategic partnership with Toyota, Tesla Motors launched its initial public offering in June 2010, raising $226 million.
Additional successes include the Model S, the company's first electric sedan. Capable of covering 265 miles between charges, the Model S was honored as the 2013 Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine.
In April 2017, Tesla announced that it surpassed General Motors to become the most valuable U.S. car maker. The news was an obvious boon to Tesla, which was looking to ramp up production and release its Model 3 sedan later that year.
In November, Musk made another splash with the unveiling of the new Tesla Semi and Roadster at the company's design studio. The semi truck, which enters into production in 2019, boasts 500 miles of range as well as a battery and motors built to last 1 million miles. The Roadster, set to follow in 2020, will become the fastest production car ever made with its 0 to 60 time of 1.9 seconds.
After initially aiming to produce 5,000 new Model 3 cars per week by December 2017, Musk pushed that goal back to March 2018, and then to June with the start of the new year. The announced delay didn't surprise industry experts, who were well aware of the company's production problems, though some questioned how long investors would remain patient with the process. It also didn't prevent Musk from garnering a radical new compensation package as CEO, in which he would be paid after reaching milestones of growing valuation based on $50 billion increments.
By April 2018, with Tesla expected to fall short of first-quarter production forecasts, news surfaced that Musk had pushed aside the head of engineering to personally oversee efforts in that division. In a Twitter exchange with a reporter, Musk said it was important to "divide and conquer" to meet production goals and was "back to sleeping at factory."
After signaling that the company would reorganize its management structure, Musk in June announced that Tesla was laying off 9 percent of its workforce, though its production department would remain intact. In an email to employees, Musk explained his decision to eliminate some "duplication of roles" to cut costs, admitting it was time to take serious steps toward turning a profit.
The restructuring appeared to pay dividends, as it was announced that Tesla had met its goal of producing 5,000 Model 3 cars per week by the end of June, while churning out another 2,000 Model S sedans and Model X SUVs. "We did it!" Musk wrote in an celebratory email to the company. "What an incredible job by an amazing team."
On August 7, 2018, Musk dropped a bombshell via a tweet: "Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured."
The announcement sent Tesla stock spiking, before it closed the day up 11 percent. Meanwhile, the CEO followed up with a letter on the company blog, calling the move to go private "the best path forward." He promised to retain his stake in the company, and added that he would create a special fund to help all current investors remain on board.
In August 2016, in Musk’s continuing effort to promote and advance sustainable energy and products for a wider consumer base, a $2.6 billion dollar deal was solidified to combine his electric car and solar energy companies. His Tesla Motors Inc. announced an all-stock deal purchase of SolarCity Corp., a company Musk had helped his cousins start in 2006. He is a majority shareholder in each entity.
“Solar and storage are at their best when they're combined. As one company, Tesla (storage) and SolarCity (solar) can create fully integrated residential, commercial and grid-scale products that improve the way that energy is generated, stored and consumed,” read a statement on Tesla’s website about the deal.
Elon Musk’s Wives
Elon Musk has been married twice. He wed Justine Wilson in 2000. After a contentious divorce, Musk met actress Talulah Riley, and the couple married in 2010. They split in 2012 but married each other again in 2013. Their relationship ultimately ended in divorce in 2016. Musk has also been involved in an on-again, off-again relationship with actress Amber Heard.
Elon Musk has five sons with ex-wife Justine Wilson. In 2002, his first son with died at 10 weeks old from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Musk and Wilson had five additional sons together: twins and triplets.
Birthday & Nationality
Elon Musk was born on June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa. He obtained his Canadian citizenship in 1989, in part because he felt it would be easier to obtain American citizenship via that path. In 2002, he achieved his goal of becoming a U.S. citizen.
Family and Early Life
Son of a Canadian mother and a South African father, Elon Musk spent his early childhood with his brother Kimbal and sister Tosca in South Africa. At 10, around the time his parents divorced, the introverted Elon developed an interest in computers. He taught himself how to program, and when he was 12 he made his first software sale of a game he created called Blastar.
Other Inventions & Innovations
Outside of his roles at SpaceX and Tesla, Musk has continually attempted to make his innovative ideas a reality.
In August 2013, Elon Musk released a concept for a new form of transportation called the "Hyperloop," an invention that would foster commuting between major cities while severely cutting travel time. Ideally resistant to weather and powered by renewable energy, the Hyperloop would propel riders in pods through a network of low-pressure tubes at speeds reaching more than 700 mph. Musk noted that the Hyperloop could take from seven to 10 years to be built and ready for use.
Although he introduced the Hyperloop with claims that it would be safer than a plane or train, with an estimated cost of $6 billion — approximately one-tenth of the cost for the rail system planned by the state of California — Musk's concept has drawn skepticism. Nevertheless, the entrepreneur has sought to encourage the development of this idea. After he announced a competition for teams to submit their designs for a Hyperloop pod prototype, the first Hyperloop Pod Competition was held at the SpaceX facility in January 2017.
Elon Musk has pursued an interest in Artificial Intelligence, becoming co-chair of the nonprofit OpenAI. The research company launched in late 2015 with the stated mission of advancing digital intelligence to benefit humanity. In 2017, it was also revealed that Musk was backing a venture called Neuralink, which intends to create devices to be implanted in the human brain and help people merge with software.
In yet another innovation, in January 2017 Elon Musk suddenly decided he was going find a way to reduce traffic by devoting resources to boring and building tunnels. He launched his venture, named "The Boring Company," with a test dig on the SpaceX property in Los Angeles. In late October, Musk posted the first photo of his company's progress to his Instagram page. He said the 500-foot tunnel, which would generally run parallel to Interstate 405, would reach a length of two miles in approximately four months.
The entrepreneur also reportedly found a market for the Boring Company's flamethrowers; after announcing they were going on sale for $500 apiece in late January 2018, he claimed to have sold 10,000 of them within a day.
In late November 2017, after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked for proposals to build and operate a high-speed rail line that would transport passengers from O'Hare Airport to downtown Chicago in 20 minutes or less, Musk tweeted that he was all-in on the competition with his Boring Company. He said that the concept of the Chicago loop would be different from his Hyperloop, its relatively short route not requiring the need for drawing a vacuum to eliminate air friction.
With Donald Trump announcing plans to pursue massive infrastructure developments after his successful election to the U.S. presidency in 2016, Musk found himself on common ground with the new president and his advisers. That December, he was named to President Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum, and the following January he joined Trump's Manufacturing Jobs Initiative.
While sometimes at odds with the president's controversial measures, such as a proposed ban on immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, Musk defended his involvement with the new administration. "My goals," he tweeted in early 2017, "are to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy and to help make humanity a multi-planet civilization, a consequence of which will be the creating of hundreds of thousands of jobs and a more inspiring future for all." On June 1, following Trump's announcement that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, Musk stepped down from his advisory roles.
Elon Musk’s Nonprofit
The boundless potential of space exploration and the preservation of the future of the human race have become the cornerstones of Musk's abiding interests, and toward these he has founded the Musk Foundation, which is dedicated to space exploration and the discovery of renewable and clean energy sources.