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Entrepreneur and billionaire Elon Musk is most famously known as the man behind the success of Tesla and Space X. And in recent years, he’s been pushing the boundaries of futuristic technologies with an ultimate goal of colonizing Mars. However, between building space rockets, electric cars, edging the world forward to sustainable energy, and being the inspiration behind Marvel movie, Iron Man, the 49-year-old pioneer has had a complicated life marked by great sadness, defeat, controversy, and success.
THE EARLY YEARS
Born on 28 June 1972 in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk is the oldest of three siblings. He has a brother, Kimbal and sister, Tosca. His father, Errol Musk, is reported to have a genius IQ and was the youngest person to earn a professional engineer’s qualification in South Africa. His mother, Maye, was a Canadian-born model and dietitian. In 1979, his parents got divorced and a year later, the young Elon chose to live with his father while his younger siblings went to live with his mother.
Elon was a reserved and introverted child. At some point, his parents thought he might be deaf because he would immerse himself in books and his imagination and take no notice of the outside world. At a young age, Musk developed an interest in computers and taught himself how to program. When he was 12 years old, he sold his first software game called Blastar.
In an excerpt from Maye Musk’s 2019 autobiography, A Woman Makes A Plan, she describes Elon as a young boy:
When Elon was young, I noticed that he read everything… [Elon] remembered everything he read. He was always absorbing information. We called Elon the encyclopedia, because he had read the “Encyclopedia Britannica” and “Colliers Encyclopedia,” and remembered everything. That’s also why we called him Genius Boy. We could ask him anything. Remember, this was before the internet. I guess now we would call him the internet.
He attended Pretoria Boys’ High and being a physically small boy at school, he became a target for other kids. He was so severely bullied that one incident landed him in hospital when a group of boys threw him down the stairs and knocked him unconscious. He had to endure the bullying through high school without any protection from the school or teachers. Years later, when Elon Musk rose to fame, the board of Pretoria Boys’ asked Elon for a donation. He sent them $1 million on condition that they never contact him again.
In 1989, Musk had graduated and spent a few months at the Pretoria University before Maye and her three children packed up to leave South Africa and move to Canada. By this time, the relationship between Elon and his father had completely disintegrated and they have no contact with each other today.
When they arrived in Canada, Musk spent time reaching out to Maye’s family that was scattered all over Canada. He spent months travelling the country, visiting relatives, and working odd jobs before deciding to enroll at Queen’s University in Ontario to study business, and shortly thereafter he acquired Canadian citizenship. During his two years at Queen’s, he met Justine, who would later become his first wife.
In 1992, Musk left Ontario and went to the University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship. He pursued multiple degrees, one in economics and one physics. Three years later, he went onto Stanford University to gain a PhD in energy physics. It was short-lived and dropped out after only two days to get involved in the Internet boom and launched his first company, Zip2 with his brother Kimbal and friend Greg Kouri. They eventually went on to sell the company to Compaq Computers in 1999 for US$305 million.
And so, the rise of Elon Musk began.
With the money made from Zip2, Elon and Kimbal founded an online financial services and payments company called X.com. Greg Kouri was also involved with this company, and would later become a significant investor in all of Elon’s ventures up until his death in 2012. X.com was one of the world's first online banks, which later merged with Confinity Inc to become PayPal in 2001.
In 2017, Musk repurchased the domain name X.com from PayPal as he said it had great sentimental value. Today, that website exists with no source code except having the single letter x displayed on its one page.
It shows that Elon has had a thing for X since way back then, using it in his Space X company and also part of his newly born son’s name.
Then, along came Space X in 2002. Musk founded the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation to initially build spacecraft for commercial space travel. By 2008, SpaceX was awarded a contract with NASA to handle cargo transport for the International Space Station, with future plans to transport astronauts and eventually replace NASA’s space shuttle missions, which were decommissioned in 2011.
In, 2012, SpaceX made history after the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket into space with an unmanned capsule. Its mission: to deliver 1 000 pounds in supplies to the astronauts on the International Space Station. It was the first time a privately owned company sent a spacecraft to the ISS. Space Station. A year later, the Falcon 9 successfully took a satellite to geosynchronous orbit, a distance at which the satellite would lock into an orbital path that matched the Earth's rotation. Then in 2015, Space X launched another Falcon 9 fitted with the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite to observe extreme emissions from the sun that affect power grids and communications systems on Earth.
Another milestone came in 2017, when a test flight and landing of a Falcon 9 rocket made from reusable parts became a pivotal point in the possibility of affordable space travel. Reusing spacecraft helps bring down the cost of space travel astronomically. However, the good run Space X was enjoying hit a setback in 2017 when there was an explosion during a test of the new Block 5 Merlin. Nobody was injured and Musk was confident it would not impede the planned rollout of future generation Falcon 9 rockets. Space X continued to enjoy successes and suffer accidents with its spacecraft development.
Notable successes in the last few years include the 2018 test launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket that took Musk’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster, equipped with a dummy astronaut driver and cameras to get epic views. The plan for Tesla vehicle it to orbit around the sun until drifting off into space for eternity. Space X has also launched its Starlink Mega Constellation aimed to provide a web of satellites for a global low latency, broadband internet system to go into operation in late 2020
As co-founder of Tesla, Musk is 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.
Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning and the company name was later changed to Tesla Inc in 2017. Eberhard served as the first CEO and Tarpenning as CFO. The company was launched to develop and produce an all-entirely electric car. While Musk has long been the face of Tesla, he only joined the company in 2004. He invested US$30 million into the company and took on the role of the chairman of the Tesla Board of Directors.
In 2006, Tesla showcased the prototype for its first car, the all-electric Roadster. A year later, Eberhard resigned as CEO being replaced by interim CEO Michael Marks, who was then replaced by Ze'ev Drori in 2007. The Roadster went into production in 2008 and that same year Ze'ev Drori resigned and was replaced by Elon Musk who remains CEO to this day. Shortly after, Tesla announces its plans for the Model S sedan.
Things got a bit nasty when in 2009, Eberhard filed a lawsuit against Tesla and Musk for allegedly forcing him out of the company and accusing Musk of taking credit for Tesla’s growing success. However, he dropped the lawsuit later that year. Tesla was having a run of bad luck in 2009 when it was facing financial woes and they had to get a loan from Daimler AG and the Department of Energy. This is primarily the reason why Tesla become a public listed in 2010 when it was able to raise US$226 million.
Two years later, Tesla activity ramped up with the Model S sedan going into full time production while at the same time, discontinuing the production of the Roadster. That was also the year that the first Supercharger charging stations were installed in California.
In 2014, we saw the first construction of the Gigafactory in Nevada and a year later, Tesla entered the solar power market, announcing their range of products that included power homes and businesses based on a combination of solar panels and batteries. In the next two years, Tesla Model X and the Model 3 sedan came to be, which was the first electric vehicle aimed at a mass market.
In 2018, controversy hit the EV maker with the SEC charging Musk with securities fraud, however, it ended in a settlement of US$20 million and Musk agreed to step down as the Chairman of Tesla's Board of Directors. He was then replaced by Robyn Denholm. Legal problems continued to plagued Musk with the Department of Justice starting an investigation into whether Tesla misled investors about its Model 3 production capacity. The investigation was later dropped.
From that time until present day, Tesla constructed and started constructed on four more Gigafactories around the world, and unveiled new models, the Roadster, the Cybertruck, and the Semi, and Model S Plaid, along with newly built Model Y.
Another futuristic venture by Elon is the mind-computer interface company called Neuralink, which was founded in 2016. In 2019, the company showcased the technology it’s developing: a chip connected to wires which fan out into the human brain, capable of both recording brain activity and stimulating it. Then in August this year, Neuralink did a live demo of the working device. Musk has claimed the technology could be used for people with neural conditions and disorders, but has also predicted it could enable human symbiosis with artificial intelligence. We’ll be seeing from more from Neuralink in the future as it fully develops this concept.
THE BORING COMPANY
The geotechnical engineering company founded by Elon Musk in 2016 has made rapid progress over the years by constructing underground tunnels as part of the Hyperloop Project. Initially, the company released a flamethrower and a limited edition of caps, which is a far cry from its real objective being underground high-speed transport.
The Hyperloop Project was designed by a joint team from Tesla and Space X that would facilitate the hypersonic transport of people and cars under distances of 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). While the Hyperloop is still in its initial design phases, the tunnels are currently in construction.
Elon Musk has been married three times, twice to same person. He first married Justine Wilson in 2000, who he met while at Queen’s University in Ontario. Their first son, Nevada died shortly after birth and subsequently they went on to have five sons, Griffin and Xavier (twins), and Kai, Saxon, and Damian (triplets). Justine and Musk divorced in 2008 and today, they share custody of their brood.
Then Elon met and married Tallulah Riley in 2010 but divorced in 2012, and then remarried in 2013 and again divorced in 2016. Through various interviews and reports, both have said they stayed friends and will always love each other.
Then in 2016, Musk dated the actress, Amber Heard. They were together for a year after breaking up due to busy and conflicting schedules. During an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Musk admitted he was affected by the breakup: "I was really in love, and it hurt bad."
In 2018, Musk started a relationship with Grimes (Claire Boucher), a Canadian music artist. The two had a son, X Æ A-Xii (pronounced “we are not sure how”) and the couple remain together today.
In the same interview with Rolling Stone, Musk opened up about how he struggled with loneliness since childhood, which has made him a hopeless romantic
"If I'm not in love, if I'm not with a long-term companion, I cannot be happy," I will never be happy without having someone. Going to sleep alone kills me. It's not like I don't know what that feels like: Being in a big empty house, and the footsteps echoing through the hallway, no one there -- and no one on the pillow next to you. F--. How do you make yourself happy in a situation like that?"
Musk has shown us his quirky side, personal side, and the inner workings of his brain through his unconventional and successful ideas.
But, this complex, gifted person is also a man of the 21st Century who has dared to invent the future.