One of the last true dreamers
Many people consider the time we live in today to be an exciting one. We’re constantly presented with seemingly new revolutions in technology – whether it’s the latest version of the iPhone, or a stunning new photo from the Hubble telescope, we truly have a sense of living in an age of wonder. However, there’s another view of our time that is important to consider as well. Does the latest phone, with extra GBs and MPs and higher DPI really count as a technological achievement? Do new photos from a telescope built over 20 years ago count as indications of our desire to know more about our universe?
In this age of technology, there seem to be few people who want to actually push the boundaries. A large percentage of our innovators seem content to develop a denser SD card, or a more robust social network, or even build a more fuel efficient car. These endeavors all have their place, to be sure, but will any of these people truly be remembered a thousand years from now? Think about it. Does the guy who put twice as much storage space in the new iPhone really deserve a place in the history books?
There are few people left who truly seem to be dreaming. Fewer still are turning those dreams into actions. As history indicates, however, it only takes one person of dreams and actions to make a lasting difference in the world – a person who makes ripples that are felt even a thousand years later. Julius Caesar’s role in the rise of the Roman Empire plastered his name in the minds of people who live eons after his death. Elizabeth I helped create the position England holds as a world power today. Isaac Newton fundamentally changed mathematics forever, unlocking more secrets by age 30 than most great people do in a lifetime. It just takes one great mind to define an era. Today, while we have many innovators, we only have a few people who are likely to be remembered forever. One of those people is Elon Musk.
Many people already know who Elon Musk is. He’s the billionaire inventor and business magnate behind Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity. But a strikingly small amount of people seem to realize the true scope and brilliance of this man’s work. Musk’s career seems to be predicated on the idea that humans, as a whole, can be great. He seems to believe, even to a fault at times, that our true destiny as a species lies in the stars, and that it is our calling to reach for them. Beyond just thinking about these things, though, Musk is actively using his influence and position to make them happen, even at the cost of his own fortune and personal happiness.
Perhaps the company that Musk is best known for is Tesla Motors. Tesla is an American car company which, despite existing for just over a decade, has already gained a large foothold in the auto industry. They currently produce high-end luxury and sports cars, often compared to Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche. The thing that sets them apart from the rest, however, is that Tesla vehicles are 100% electric. Further, Tesla has opened up their patents, giving them to whoever wants to use them, for free.
This is key. Musk started Tesla with the idea that the world needs to be sold on electric cars. He believes that our dependency on fossil fuels is holding us back from true greatness. To this end, he’s implemented a pretty clever plan to break into the auto industry as a new manufacturer. Tesla started out producing only high-end sports cars. They are now also producing luxury vehicles on par with Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus, and will soon be producing consumer-grade cars on par with Toyota, Honda, and Ford. This idea of starting from the top to establish Tesla as a luxury brand name before producing cars for the average consumer is one that hasn’t been tried before, and already seems to be working in their favor.
Tesla is also doing one other very important thing. They’re not just producing cars anymore – they recently announced that they will be producing a line of storage batteries for homes and businesses. This goes hand in hand with the next company Musk is directly involved in.
After deciding that we needed to break our dependence on fossil fuels, it seemed obvious to Musk that solar power makes the most sense for renewable energy in today’s society. With that in mind, he seeded funding for a company called SolarCity. The idea was to start a solar company that could provide affordable, sustainable solar technology to the average home owner. It simply is not viable to expect a home owner to pay $20,000 – $60,000 or more for a solar system installation – at least, not if the goal is to get everyone using solar.
SolarCity provides a service where they will install a solar system on your home at no cost to you. Rather than pay the electric company, you pay SolarCity a leasing fee for the system, which they guarantee will be less than your previous electric bills. In this way, you’re essentially guaranteed to save money by using solar. While they’re not the first company to do this, SolarCity has already become one of the largest distributors and leasers of solar panel technology in the world. This is directly in line with Musk’s plan to get us into the galaxy as a species.
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or simply “SpaceX”, is Musk’s game-changer and personal baby. SpaceX’s goal is to drastically reduce the cost of space travel by creating reusable and efficient launch vehicles. By reusing rockets and vehicles, SpaceX claims to be able to reduce the cost to get into space by a ridiculous amount. The most recent method to get into space, i.e. the shuttle program, cost about $10,000 per pound. SpaceX is aiming for something more like $10 per pound. This seems insane, until you realize that much of the cost the shuttle program incurred was centered around the fact that their rockets were not reusable.
Musk doesn’t even have to start from scratch for this – SpaceX’s entire strategy is to start with existing technology, and then have some of the best designers and engineers in the world figure out how to streamline that technology and make it reusable. They’ve already reached massive success, too. SpaceX is the only private company to ever return a spacecraft from low-earth orbit. Moreover, they’re already partnering with NASA to resupply the ISS.
Mars and Beyond
Musk’s ultimate goal with all of this is to get humans onto Mars. While we probably won’t be gallivanting around the galaxy in any of our lifetimes, getting a foothold on another planet would be an unprecedented achievement, and surely a turning point in human history. Whether or not we come to our senses and fix our environment before it’s too late, we simply have to expand if we’re going to survive in the long term as a species.
Even if it’s just to rally us around this common cause, Elon Musk’s achievements are already monumental. He’s proven to be a man of decisive action, who isn’t content to just sit by and hope his dreams come true. In a world where so many people seem to be appeased by the latest smart phone or social network, it’s inspiring to know that there are at least a few people out there who are not just looking up at the stars, but reaching for them.