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Internet entrepreneur hits paydirt in space, autos
by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) May 22, 2012

It was a landmark day for Elon Musk. The onetime Internet entrepreneur's firm SpaceX became the first commercial outfit to launch its own spacecraft toward the International Space Station.

To top it off, his Tesla Motors venture announced it would start delivery of its new "premium" electric sedan next month, ahead of schedule.

The 40-year-old South African native has channeled a fortune into a series of ambitious ventures.

Besides SpaceX and Tesla, Musk heads up SolarCity, a company which makes solar panels for homes and businesses. And he operates his own foundation focusing on education, clean energy and child health.

Born to a South African father and Canadian mother, Musk moved to Canada in his late teens and then to the United States, earning bachelor's degrees in physics and business from the University of Pennsylvania.

After graduating, Musk abandoned plans to pursue further studies at Stanford University and started Zip2, a company which made online publishing software for the media industry.

He banked his first millions before the age of 30 when he sold Zip2 to US computer maker Compaq for more than $300 million in 1999.

Musk's next company,, eventually merged with PayPal, the online payments firm bought by Internet auction giant eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.

Over six feet (1.8 meters) tall with a high forehead and a piercing gaze, Musk sees possibilities for entrepreneurs who take risks.

"I think it is a case where sometimes the little guy wins," he said in an AFP interview, referring to others in the private space race including aerospace giant Boeing.

In 2002, Musk launched SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies Corp., where he serves as chief executive and chief technology officer, with plans to develop low-cost rockets.

Musk, who has invested $100 million of his estimated $2 billion fortune in SpaceX, is clearly proud of how far the firm has come despite his lack of space experience, and says he hopes to develop technology to go to Mars.

The US space agency NASA contracted SpaceX to help deliver cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station while a new generation of space vehicles is being developed to replace the space shuttle.

Musk hopes to eventually send a manned mission to Mars but space flight is just one of his many passions.

Jon Favreau, director of "Iron Man," calls Musk a modern-day "Renaissance man."

In an article for Time, Favreau said that he and actor Robert Downey Jr. modeled the main character in the movie -- "genius billionaire Tony Stark" -- after the Silicon Valley star.

Musk told Time that his goal was to be "involved in things that are going to make a significant difference to the future of humanity.

"That was the motivation for getting involved in the Internet and then sustainable energy with Tesla and SolarCity," he said.

Musk founded Palo Alto, California-based Tesla in 2003 to manufacture "affordable electric vehicles for mainstream consumers."

Tesla's first vehicle, the Tesla Roadster, is a high-performance sports car which costs over $100,000 and can go nearly 250 miles (400 kilometers) on a single charge.

Its owners have included former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hollywood star George Clooney. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are investors in the company.

Tesla said Tuesday it would begin deliveries of "the world's first premium electric sedan" on June 22, slightly ahead of schedule.

Musk went through a messy divorce from his Canadian-born wife, science fiction writer Justine Musk, mother of their five sons, including triplets. She wrote about proceedings on a blog.

Earlier this year, he announced on Twitter he was separating after less than a year of marriage with British actress Talulah Riley.


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