If all goes according to plan, tomorrow, May 7th 2012 will be a seminal day in the annuals of American entrepreneurial know-how spirit and the advance of science. The Falcon 9 spacecraft, a heavy load rocket capable of manned orbital flight, will blast off from Cape Canaveral for an intended rendezvous and docking with International Space Station. The unmanned spaceflight, if successful, will represent the first wholly private commercial orbital space transit and will throw the doors open to a huge new venue of private American economic enterprise and development, private enterprise space. The driving force for the breakthrough company, SpaceX, and another of those amazing individuals America’s free enterprise system with its risk/reward pathway seems to continually produce, is Ramparts People We Should Know #21 – Elon Musk.
Elon Musk is among those rare individuals who maximize their talents and energies on the concept of creation. Like unique human forces like Steven Jobs and Burt Rutan, Musk has been forever searching for the path to the end product he has already envisioned, and success and failure along the way are assumed characteristics of the eventual conquering of the vision. Elon Musk has already achieved conceptualization and production of the world’s foremost internet financial transaction system, PayPal, devised and shepherded the most advanced production line electric drive train automobile, the Tesla, and with Monday’s launch, potentially will be America’s primary private cargo and eventually manned transport service for the United States, a country without an available transport system since the retirement of the shuttle. If you feel that this represents several lifetimes of contributions to the advancement of civilization, recognize that Elon Musk will not celebrate his 41st birthday until June 28th.
Musk was born in South Africa of a South African engineer father and a Canadian mother. At 17, he determined to emigrate from South Africa to avoid compulsory military service and eventually live in the United States, as he was quoted, ” It is where great things are possible.” Settling with relatives in Regina, Saskatchewan, he eventually emigrated to the United States where he attended the Wharton School of Business where he achieved dual undergraduate degrees in business and physics. He was accepted to graduate school at Stanford in applied physics, but lasted only two days before he was tempted with an internet software entrepreneurial opportunity with his brother in California’s Silicon Valley. Musk has stated a driving force for him intellectually was to be involved in solving “important problems” – particularly internet, clean energy, and space. Early success with Zip2, the company he started with his brother, brought capital of over 300 million when they sold their fledgling company to Compaq. Capital led to the start of Musk’s company X.com, a financial services and internet payment company that morphed into PayPal. In just three years PayPal grew into a force in internet financial services and was purchased by EBay in 2002 for over a billion dollars.
A 31 year old Musk could have taken the money and bought yachts and castles, but instead poured the money into two venues with visions of spectacular advance and horrendous risk. He started the electric car company Tesla Motors in 2003 and the space exploration and transport company SpaceX in 2002. Musk poured much of his own money in both start up ventures and by 2010 was almost completely tapped out. As if that mattered to such people. Musk began to see some light with the addition of more deep pocketed investors and the resources of the United States government – as well as that old stand by, creative success and innovation. The Tesla Roadster, an all electric sports car initially produced in 2008, and the soon to come Tesla S sedan, have carved out a market for the innovation buyer, promising the drive capacity of a modern vehicle tied to the clean energy of all electric power. SpaceX, if successful on the launch and orbital docking test on May 7th, is in line for a multi-billion dollar services contract with the U.S. for cargo and eventually manned transport, that will revolutionize space transport and likely explode innovation, as only private competition can do.
Elon Musk will create, because that is what he was genetically programmed to do. We can all be thankful that people such as Elon continually focus their talent and energies on risky but worthy projects that benefit all of us, and make our lives better. In a special way America’s unique entrepreneurial laboratory continues to produce amazing results that drive progress better than any organized educational process. College dropouts like Steven Jobs and William Gates, savants with 3 months of official schooling like Thomas Alva Edison, and Google Stanford schoolboys Larry Page and Sergey Brin join Musk among the many who have thrown their talents into the success and failure game of American entrepeneurial adventures and advanced civilization beyond the what could be devised from an advanced degree. What a magnificent creative cauldron is the American ideal of personal initiative, risk, and reward. We do honor to our past by recognizing the elements of society that help nurture the Elon Musks of this world, and protect our future by preventing government from interfering with this very successful but fragile process. Elon Musk will soon be 41, and one can only imagine what he has yet to offer. Ramparts salutes Elon Musk as People We Should Know #21, and looks with certainty to next Elon Musk somewhere in our American midst, as long as we remember to let them fail or succeed upon their own unique vision – without us getting in the way.