Washington (AFP) June 4, 2010
SpaceX founder Elon Musk is a hard-charging former Internet entrepreneur who has channeled a dot.com fortune into a series of ambitious ventures -- from space flight to electric cars to solar energy.
Besides SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rocket blasted off on its maiden voyage on Friday, Musk, 38, is the co-founder of electric carmaker Tesla Motors and SolarCity, a company which makes solar panels for homes and businesses.
Born in South Africa to a South African father and a 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 from the prestigious Ivy League institution, 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 dollars in 1999.
Musk's next company, X.com, eventually became PayPal, the online payments firm bought by Internet auction giant eBay for 1.5 billion dollars in 2002.
Over six feet (1.8 meters) tall with a high forehead and a piercing gaze, Musk acknowledges that his personal intensity has been a key to his success.
"I believe in really pushing super hard and not giving up," Musk said in an interview with Time magazine for its latest issue on the 100 most influential people in the world.
"As long as I can see a path to success I'll keep going so long as I have the resources to do so," he said.
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.
The US space agency NASA has contracted SpaceX to help deliver cargo and astronauts to the Internernational 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 dollars and can go nearly 250 miles (400 kilometers) on a single charge.
Its owners include California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hollywood star George Clooney. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are investors in the company.
In January, Tesla announced plans for an intial public offering of stock and Toyota said last month it was acquiring a 50-million-dollar stake in Tesla and teaming up to jointly develop electric vehicles.
Tesla is also making a "Model S" five-passenger sedan. Expected in 2012, the Model S is to sell for around 50,000 dollars.
Tesla has yet to turn a profit, however, and the company has reportedly eaten up much of Musk's once vast fortune. Musk has also poured 100 million dollars of his own money into SpaceX over the years.
Musk's financial situation has come to light in his divorce case from his Canadian-born wife, science fiction writer Justine Musk.
According to technology blog VentureBeat, Musk wrote in a February filing in their divorce case that he "ran out of cash" late last year and has been living off personal loans from friends since October 2009.
Justine Musk, mother of their five sons, which include triplets, has been chronicling the divorce proceedings on her blog, "Love, soul & vision."
One post she sarcastically titled "Golddigger" outlined her demands from her "billionaire and utterly brilliant" husband, including a request for 10 percent of his stock in Tesla and five percent of his SpaceX shares.
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