TCS Daily

Elon Musk: From Paypal to Outerspace

By The Editors - June 18, 2008 12:00 AM

Elon Musk is perhaps the ultimate immigrant success story. He left home in South Africa for Canada and came to the United States to pursue his education. In 1999, he co-founded a company called, an online financial services and email payments company that later became PayPal.

In 2002, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), where he is currently CEO and CTO. He's also Chairman of the Board of Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley-based company which is building high-performance electric vehicles.

TCS contributor Ben Wattenberg sat down with Musk on the factory floor of SpaceX to talk about private sector space efforts, entrepreneurialism and America for the PBS series "Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg." The video program can be viewed at

TCS: Elon Musk, We normally begin these sessions by asking you a little bit about background, where you were born, where you went to school.

MUSK: Well, I was born in South Africa and lived there until I was 17. I came to North America of my own accord, against my parent's wishes, and was in Canada for a few years. I started school there and met my wife. I transferred down to the University of Pennsylvania and got a degree in physics and a degree in business at Wharton. I came out to California with the intent of doing a PHD in the material science and physics with an eye towards energy storage for electric vehicles.
I ended up deferring that graduate work to start a couple of companies, one of which people have heard about - Pay Pal - which is the leading internet payment mechanism. It's like an American Express of the Twenty First Century.

TCS: This was your idea.

MUSK: There were two other people involved but I was responsible for many of the core ideas. I had just sold my first internet company which made software primarily for media companies. We sold that to Compaq for about 300 million dollars in cash in early in '99. And after that I left the company and started what was originally called, which later became Pay Pal.

TCS: So now we're on the factory floor of SpaceX. What are you doing here?

MUSK: SpaceX is developing markets for taking satellites and people to orbit and beyond. We've finished development of and done a few test launches of our small rocket, which is the Falcon One. We have in development a big rocket which is the Falcon 9. And that's intended to service the space station, as well as deliver very large satellites to orbit.

TCS: Do you want to go to Mars?

MUSK: I wouldn't say it's a personal interest of mine. Really my interest in going to Mars is from the standpoint of the extension of life beyond earth. To the best of my knowledge life exists only on earth. If you look at the history of the earth upon a geological grand scale -- what are the really important milestones in the history of life itself? Forget about the parochial concerns of humanity.
Well, certainly there was the advent of single cell life, multi-cellular life, plants versus animals, life emerging from the oceans and moving up to land.
There's the advent of mammals, the development of consciousness. There's maybe ten or twelve things that are on that scale. And this is the first time in the 4 billion year history of earth that it's possible to extend life to another planet.

TCS: Much of the space program and its origins was of course governmental. Could you operate without government help?

MUSK: Yes. We started with no government help. The government is a customer but we also have commercial customers as well.

TCS: Another one of your very noteworthy entrepreneurial activities is a new electric car.

MUSK: Yes. I'm chairman and principal founder of Tesla Motors, which is making a revolutionary sports car, the Tesla Roadster. It's all electric. It has an almost 250 miles range. It accelerates in less than four seconds to 60 miles an hour. And it costs 100 thousand dollars, so it's a compelling price for car of that performance. It is really the beachhead for the technology. It's the introductory product, and allows us to refine the technology and make more affordable over time.

Tesla is developing a lower cost car, which is a sedan. It's a five-passenger, four -door sedan, quite large and it's intended to be something that could be a family sedan or replace a small SUV. It's going to be in the 50 thousand dollar range. We'll be producing 10 to 20 thousand of these a year.

TCS: Can it ever be economically competitive with a vehicle powered by fossil fuel?

MUSK: Yes. Actually I think in the long term, electric cars will be more economically competitive than the gasoline-powered cars. The price of gasoline is going to rise over time. But in addition to the price of gas going up, the cost of electric transportation is going to go down, drive in part by companies like Tesla.

TCS: Do you think we ought to be doing more to encourage the use of nuclear power in the United States?

MUSK: It's true we've not built new nuclear plants in a couple decades. Although what most people don't realize is that the existing nuclear plants have been massively upgraded, so our percentage of nuclear power has actually not declined much. Yes, we should build more nuclear power plants. I think that's certainly a better way to generate energy than a coal power plant or a natural gas power plant.

TCS: You came from South Africa at age 17.

MUSK: Yes.

TCS: You have been quoted as saying that you are nauseatingly pro American.

MUSK: Yes, that's true. I think the United States is the greatest country that's ever existed on earth. And I think that it is difficult to argue on objective grounds that it is not. I think the facts really point in that direction. It's the greatest force for good of any country that's ever been. I think it would be a mistake to say the United States is perfect; it certainly is not. But when historians look at these things on balance and measure the good with the bad -- and I think if you do that on a rational basis and make a fair assessment -- I think it's hard to say that there is anything better. I wasn't born in America - but I got here as fast as I could.



Open Borders
Let all come in the USA who want to work and be successful.

I'm posting at now...
I do not know why TCS seems to have stopped posting new discussions. However, I have been posting comments over at Rich Karlgaard's blog...for all these many months that I have been interacting with you great folks here.

Many of the same topics are discussed and by some of the same people. In fact, our friend Jerry Bowyer posts comments over there quite often.

I use my full name...Forest Baker...over at so you will know that it's still me.

I'll be out of the country on business for a few weeks...and not checking in with Rich very much while I'm on the road. However, I do want to continue working with you guys...I think we accomplished a great deal. Thanks.

This website must be dead
its been a month and nothing............

I'll check back in another month, but until then, I've removed the bookmark to TCS.

good luck

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