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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 13:58 EDT

Elon Musk

Elon Musk was born on June 28, 1971. He is a South African-American inventor and entrepreneur. He is the founder of SpaceX and Co-founder of Tesla Motors and PayPal. He is also chairman of SolarCity.

Musk attended Bryanston High School in South Africa, but graduated from Pretoria Boys High School. In the early 90s, Musk was educated at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario Canada and left Canada around 1992 to pursue Business and Physics at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a second bachelor’s degree in physics.

His first bachelor’s degree came from The Wharton School, where he majored in economics. He then moved to California to pursue a PhD in applied physics and materials science at Stanford. However, he left the program only after 2 days.

After dropping out of graduate school, Musk started Zip2 with his brother, Kimbal Musk. Zip2 provided online content publishing software for news organizations. In 1999, Compaq’s AltaVista division acquired Zip2 for $307 million (US) in cash and $34 million (US) in stock options.

Musk co-founded X.com, an online financial services and e-mail payment company, in March 1999. One year later, in a 50/50 merger, X.com acquired Confinity, which operated an auction payment system similar in size to X.com, namely PayPal. Musk believed that the Confinity sub-brand would become the necessary vehicle to incorporate and develop a person-to-person payment platform. The combined company at first adopted X.com as the corporate name; but in February 2001, X.com changed its legal name to PayPal Inc.

PayPal’s early growth was due in large part to a successful viral growth campaign created by Musk. In October 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion (US) in stock. Before its sale, Musk, the company’s largest shareholder, owned 11.7 percent of PayPal’s shares.

Musk founded his third company, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), in June 2002 and is the CEO and CTO. SpaceX develops and manufactures space launch vehicles with a focus on advancing the state of rocket technology. The company’s first two launch vehicles are the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets and its first spacecraft is Dragon.

SpaceX was awarded a $1.6 billion NASA contract on 23 December 2008, for 12 flights of their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, replacing the Space Shuttle after it retired in 2011. Initially, Falcon 9/Dragon will replace the cargo transport function of the Shuttle and astronaut transport will be handled by the Soyuz. However, SpaceX has designed Falcon 9/Dragon with astronaut transport in mind and the Augustine commission has recommended that astronaut transport be handled by commercial companies like SpaceX.

In seven years, SpaceX designed the family of Falcon launch vehicles and the Dragon multi-purpose spacecraft from the ground-up. In September 2009, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket became the first privately funded liquid-fueled vehicle to put a satellite into Earth orbit. NASA selected SpaceX to be part of the first program that entrusts private companies to deliver cargo to the ISS. This contract, which has a minimum value of $1.6 billion (US) and a maximum value of $3.1 billion (US), has become a cornerstone of the Space Station’s continued access to cargo delivery and return. In addition to these services, SpaceX’s goals include simultaneously lowering the price of orbital spaceflight and improving reliability, both by an order of magnitude, while creating the first fully reusable orbital launch vehicle. In the coming years, Musk will focus on delivering astronauts to the ISS, but has stated his personal goal of eventually enabling human exploration and settlement of Mars.

Musk is chairman of the Musk Foundation, which focuses its philanthropic efforts on science education, pediatric health and clean energy. He is a trustee of the X Prize Foundation, The National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, The Planetary Society, and Stanford Engineering Advisory Board. Musk is also a member of the board of trustees of the California Institute of Technology.

And now, Elon Musk wants to revolutionize transportation… Again.

The serial entrepreneur envisions a future where mag-lev trains in enormous pneumatic tubes whisk us from Los Angeles to New York in 45 minutes. Need to be in Beijing tomorrow? No problem. It’s a two-hour ride away.

As crazy as it sounds, Musk is merely updating an idea that’s been around since the early 1900s, and at least one company is working on a functional prototype. But according to sources, his involvement won’t be nearly as hands-on as Musk’s other endeavors at Tesla Motors and SpaceX.

The engineering behind the Hyperloop is similar to the old-school pneumatic tube systems used by banks to suck your deposit to the teller at the drive-through. But naturally, it’s more complicated than that.

A massive vacuum tube — mounted either above ground or even under water — would be combined with a magnetic levitation system used on conventional bullet trains. That means no friction, no wind resistance, no chance of collisions, and insanely high speeds.

We will have to wait and see if Elon Musk’s latest ideas will be as successful as all of his earlier endeavors.

Image Caption: SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk watches Dragon’s progress inside of SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, CA. May 31st, 2012 Credit: SpaceX

Elon Musk