Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NISMO Stuff's Man of the Year 2010: Elon Musk

Perhaps this is a bit premature as the Dragon capsule is still circling the Earth and has yet to splash down intact into the waters off of Mexico but I'll go out on a limb and assume it will complete its mission with flying colors and declare Elon Musk my NISMO Stuff 2010 "Man of the Year". (update: the Dragon capsule landed perfectly and being recovered by ships in the Pacific currently)

No, he didn't win a Super Bowl like Sports Illustrated's MOTY, nor is he as well known as I'm sure Time Magazine's Man/Person/Whatever of the year award will be. His impact on our lives and strikingly, the future of humanity (no hyperbole here) has the potential to turn Musk into one of the greats of history, rather than a non-entity as Time's recent award winners (Bernake?? Obama??) are already looking to become.

So, what has Musk done and doing?

Well, his privately held company SpaceX has become one of two companies tasked with resupplying the space station after the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle in 2011 and just today launched the first privately funded, manned capable, earth returning capsule into orbit and is due to bring it back in about an hour--the first time this has ever been done by a non-governmental entity.

Musk's stated priority is to get mankind out of its birthing place and headed down the road of interstellar colonization. Musk is not a Bill Gates style billionaire. He has big ideas and is willing to take big risks to bring them to life. He is not interested in bringing Microsoft computers to every classroom.
He understands that life on Earth is fragile and doomed to extinction if we continually look inward and are not pushing out. SpaceX, along with companies such as Scaled Composites are truly out on the real bleeding edge of science, engineering and discovery and deserve much more support than they are currently given.

Then we have Musk's more visible and known entity--Tesla Motors. The builder of high end, electric sports cars was taken public earlier this year and formed a significant partnership with Toyota, generated hundreds if not thousands of jobs, nearly singlehandedly pulled GM into developing the Volt, bought up the giant NUMMI plant in LA to make its vehicles and turned a company that about one year ago was down to its final few million dollars in investment capital into one now worth $3 billion dollars.

Tesla Motors is the first automobile company since Ford in 1936 to go public when it did so earlier this year and whatever happens, will be viewed as one of the progenitors of the modern electric vehicle movement. My own hunch is that Tesla Motors will either be gobbled up by some other auto company or will eventually disappear under the pressure and resources of larger automotive entities. Regardless Musk stuck his own nose and capital (several hundred million dollars) out there to develop an idea and product of his own and has made it a success and a world leader in its industry, from the ground up in a remarkably short period of time.

Oh, and did I mention he still retains hands on control of both SpaceX and Tesla? Busy guy that Musk.

Born in South Africa with a BS in Economics from Wharton and a BA in Physics from the same U Penn., Musk is no trust fund baby and made his own bones with the development and eventual sale of PayPal to Ebay. In his late 30's, with sights firmly set on the future and so much under his belt already, one wonders what could be accomplished if only our government or those with real funding (Gates, Ellison, Buffett, Slim, etc. as Musk's original source of funds pales in comparison to these listed titans) got up off their rotting bottoms and had an original idea or dream.

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