First private rocket to orbit the earth!

On September 28, 2008 SpaceX finally placed a privately developed rocket in an orbit around the earth. SpaceX is Elon Musk’s privately funded space exploration company.

 SpaceX Falcon 1 launch
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Elon Musk of SpaceX

I’m finally getting round to blogging about successful South African businesspeople.At 36 and with a net worth of over $300 million, Elon Musk is one of America’s richest people under the age of 40. After two extremely successful ventures in the dot-com world, he is now focusing on space exploration and earth-friendly technology. Musk was born in South Africa in 1971. His father is a South African engineer; his mother, a Canadian nutritionist. At age 17 Elon left home. He enrolled at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, but his goal was the United States. “It is where great things are possible. I am nauseatingly pro-American,” he is quoted as saying.He got his chance through a scholarship to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned two undergraduate degrees, first in economics, then in physics. He was accepted at Stanford, but quickly left to start Zip2, the company that created the technology to put newspaper-style ads and city directories on the Internet. After selling Zip2 to Compaq for $307 million, Musk, in 1999, helped launch and build PayPal (formed as a merger between PayPal and Musk’s venture). The monster online payment system was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.Now Musk has put his money and efforts into two enterprises: building low-cost rockets to advance space exploration, and producing electric cars that are both environmentally clean and fast. His Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, builds the Falcon, a reusable, two-stage rocket, and the Dragon, a spaceship for carrying cargo and later, humans, to the International Space Station. Musk serves as chief engineer at SpaceX and designed much of the Falcon himself. The rockets are simpler and cost a fraction of the price of most other rockets. The Malaysian government and an arm of the Pentagon are in line to use the Falcon for launching their satellites into orbit. In addition, NASA signed a $278 million contract with SpaceX for services. A recent Wired article provides a great overview of entrepreneurs like Musk and Jeff Bezos (of Amazon) entering commercial space exploration. Musk is also the primary investor in Tesla Motors, enabling the company to develop its Tesla Roadster. The automobile has no tail pipe or gas tank, and runs on 7,000 lithium ion batteries the size of a tube of lipstick. The car can go from 0-60 mph in less than four seconds and has a price tag of $100,000.Musk is also on the board of Everdream, and Solacity and well as being a trustee of the X Prize Foundation. He is willing to invest up to $4mm in next generation battery, especially ultra capacitors, ventures. Search for his name in the CNN Money article.Considering that Musk once told a friend he wished he could find a way not to eat so he could work all the time, hobbies don’t seem to be a priority in life, but he is married, to author Justine Musk. The couple lives in Bel Air, Calif., with their five boys: a set of twins and a set of triplets. He also has a $1.2 million McLaren F1 car to drive to work in and a L-39 Russian jet that he pilots.Musk was a voracious reader as a child and by his teens was studying philosophers such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, but came to the conclusion that they didn’t have much to say and considers much of what they believed as “rubbish.” He does, however, view Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, as one of the great philosophers of all time.Nov 16, 2007 update: Interesting story in ValleyWag regarding the PayPal mafia article in Fortune.

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South African businesspeople in the US

South African flag

As a South African businessman living in the US, I’m always interested to find and research other successful South African businesspeople in America. This is the start of a series that will continue until I run out of people to profile.South Africa is known for a number of famous people. Nelson Mandela, Ernie Els, Gary Player, Charlize Theron, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mark Shuttleworth (Ubuntu fame) and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk. I know of a number of others, however you’ll have to wait to hear about them. My focus will be on businesspeople and not celebrities or politicians.Next time I’ll start by profiling Elon Musk of SpaceX.Send me an email if you want me to profile a specific businessperson.

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