How I Got Here: Elon MuskFrom Pretoria to the planets: Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur and green evangelist who’s reaching for the stars.
Elon Reeve Musk is born in Pretoria, South Africa, on June 28. When Musk is 8, his parents divorce and he lives with his mother, brother and sister. But at 11 he goes to live with his dad - an electrical engineer - telling his mom, “You have three kids and Dad has no kids.” Elon’s free time is spent programming his computer, a Commodore VIC-20.
A nerd decades before it’s fashionable, the bookish youngster earns the nickname “Muskrat.” His computing skills are such that, at just 12, he creates Blastar - a Space Invaders clone - and sells it to a PC magazine for $500. (Years later, a biography of Musk prints the mag page with the game code, and, of course, someone codes it to be played online.)
After attending university in Ontario and Pennsylvania, and getting degrees in physics and economics, Musk begins a Ph.D. at Stanford University, but quits two days later. “I didn’t even go to classes, actually,” Musk says later. “I was sort of forced to choose. You know, it’s either start the grad program or, you know, do my internet company.” He “does” Zip2, a web software company.
Three years after selling Zip2 and pocketing $22 million, Musk earns $165 million when eBay buys PayPal, the company born from the merger of his email-payments firm X.com with another, Confinity. Next venture: interplanetary innovation with SpaceX. Not everyone gets behind his vision of human life beyond Earth: During a visit to buy rockets, Musk and his team are spat on by a Russian chief designer who thinks they’re “full of shit.”
Musk becomes chairman of Tesla, an electric car- maker in which he has invested heavily. Four years on, he takes the reins as CEO and the firm launches its Roadster, the first mass-production car to run on lithium-ion batteries not dissimilar to those found in laptops and mobile phones. Around 2,500 Roadsters are sold.
Quite the summer: Tesla announces the five-door Model S (launches 2012; more than 150,000 sold to date), and a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket containing some of the ashes of James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty in Star Trek, fails two minutes after launch. “Technically, Scotty’s ashes did get to space; they just didn’t stay there,” Musk notes.
Hyperloop - perhaps Musk’s most audacious idea- proposes a 35-minute, 600 mph journey between LA and San Francisco, inside pods propelled along tubes. Critics say it’s impractical and expensive; Musk counters by making the tech open-source so that anyone (rich enough) can take a crack at it.
Becomes co-chair of OpenAI, a self-proclaimed “non-profit artificial intelligence research company” that hopes to promote beneficial AI of the kind that won’t take all our jobs and then end the human race. “It’s really just trying to increase the probability that the future will be good,” he says later.
A section of Tesla’s Gigafactory opens in Nevada. Projected to be world’s largest building, it will be fully operational in 2020, making batteries and power storage devices for Tesla cars, home and industry. Also: The Tesla Model X SUV goes on sale, and SpaceX announces a trip to Mars for 2022. Forbes calculates Musk’s net worth as $10.7 billion.