Last week, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket successfully lifted off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was no ordinary rocket. First, it was not owned by any government but by one person who started life with high hopes.
Elon Musk, the person behind Tesla, the electric car company, and SpaceX’s historical liftoff wanted to do things his own way. After graduating from high school in South Africa, he moved from his home town of Pretoria South Africa to North America.
The first company he founded, Zip2, would be sold to Compaq for $307 million in cash. His second company, PayPal, was sold to eBay for $1.7 billion. From there, he set his sights on producing space launch vehicles with his next company, SpaceX.
One might ask how a young man of only 40 plus years could have accomplished so much so soon. I am convinced it is a result of the impact his parents had on him, especially his father. His father, being an engineer, had a strong influence on his early life. He inspired Elon’s love of technology. When Elon was ten years old, he bought himself his first computer. Not knowing anything about computers, he taught himself how to program. Just two years later, he had created a space game and was selling it commercially.
Elon obviously was a very bright kid, but that alone does not explain how he was capable of accomplishing so much in such a short time. I don’t think his upbringing can be over looked, but there are other factors to be considered.
When he was asked how he learned to build rockets he would simply say, “I read books.”
In its profile of the Tesla and SpaceX, the New Yorker observed that he was picked on a lot during his South African childhood, and he would retreat into fantasy (JRR Tolkien) and science-fiction (Isaac Asimov) to cope.
Books have always been important to Elon: inspiring him as a child, giving him heroes as a young adult, and helping him to learn rocket science while launching SpaceX.
The New Yorker reports that in his loneliness, he read a lot of fantasy and science-fiction books. Those books, notably, “The Lord of The Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien shaped his vision for his future self.
“The heroes of the books I read always felt a duty to save the world,” he told the New Yorker.
Then came “The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. Here he learned if you could properly phrase a question, then the answer is the easy part, he said in that same interview.
Elon felt Benjamin Franklin was one of his heroes. In Franklin’s biography, you can see how (Franklin) was an entrepreneur, Elon told the Foundation. He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid.
In that same interview with Foundation, Elon says he learned a lot from another biography by Walter Isaacson, “Einstein”. As with Franklin, this book tells the story of a genius who transforms the world with his intelligence and ambition.
This book explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk, a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn’t get a teaching job or a doctorate, became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos. There were other books: “Structures, Why Things Don’t Fall Down” by J. E. Gordon
“Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellant” by John D. Clark
“Super Intelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom.
“Zero to One: Notes On Startups, or How To Build The Future” by Peter Thiel.
After reading these and other books, one can see how they impressed a young sensitive mind.
Elon once said that he was picked on and bullied as a child, which led him to turn to books, and they had a strong impact on his young growing mind. He grew up in a land of fantasy.
Just think. As a child my teachers used to tell me, “STOP FANTASIZING!” And I did. What a waste.
I have made it my goal in life to help every Baby Boomer finally become who they were meant to be.