If an advanced alien race were to study our civilization centuries from now, they surely would pinpoint Elon Musk as one of the brilliant minds who helped reshape the global economy following the tech boom of the late 1990s. After all, the South African native became a millionaire many times over upon selling his shares in Zip2 in 1999 and PayPal in 2002, and made electric cars cool after taking over as CEO of Tesla Motors in 2008.
But the real reason the aliens might be drawn to Musk? He could be the one who bridges the cosmic divide between our races. Since launching Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) in 2002, Musk has contracted with NASA and the U.S. government to develop his company’s fleet of rocket ships, and he fully believes in the importance of colonizing Mars to extend human existence. As the rock-star entrepreneur plans to unveil a "major new Tesla product line — not a car" tomorrow, here are five things to know about the man whose ideas are literally out of this world:
1. He developed and sold a video game at age 12
The budding CEO got his start in the technology industry after seeing a computer in a store for the first time at age 10. He learned to program and developed the code for a shooting-spaceship game called "Blastar," which he sold to a computer magazine for $500. Naturally, the boy with grand ambitions didn't stop there, and he devised plans with his younger brother, Kimbal, to open an arcade near their school. However, those plans were nixed when their parents refused to provide their legal consent for a permit, and the brothers wound up selling chocolates to classmates instead.
2. He spent just two days at Stanford University
Musk enrolled at Stanford in 1995 for graduate studies in applied physics, but by that point he was consumed with the game-changing capabilities of the Internet. When applying for academic deferment, Musk said he would return in six months if his endeavors didn't pan out; the department chairman replied that he didn't expect to see the young computer whiz again, a prediction that proved 100 percent accurate. Musk went on to found Zip2, which established an online presence for brick-and-mortar organizations, and by the time Compaq swooped in to buy the company four years later, there was little need to resume his formal education.
3. He inspired the creation of a solar power company
In 2004, Musk was driving with his cousin Lyndon Rive to Burning Man, the annual late-summer festival held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. A successful software entrepreneur in his own right, Rive confessed a desire to embark on a more meaningful enterprise. Musk suggested he consider the possibilities of solar power, and over the course of the drive and subsequent hedonism in the desert, the idea blossomed. Rive and his brother Peter created SolarCity, which grew into the country’s largest solar provider with their cousin on board as chairman. Something about Burning Man clearly fires up Musk’s imagination; he claims to have conceived the idea of a vertical takeoff and landing electric plane at the festival, calling it a "very creative place."
4. He is the real-life model for "Iron Man’s" Tony Stark
When Iron Man writer and director Jon Favreau was exploring ways to humanize the character of Tony Stark, the charismatic, super-smart protagonist of the comic book and movie series, actor Robert Downey Jr. suggested he get in touch with Musk. Favreau wound up shooting parts of Iron Man 2 at the SpaceX factory, and Musk later found a way to replicate his fictional counterpart’s methods of designing rocket parts on a computer screen by waving his hands across a sensor. As far as we know, the Iron Man comparisons end there: Musk does not fly around in a suit of armor or hang out with Captain America and the Hulk, though he may need to recruit those guys if he succeeds in colonizing Mars and incites the wrath of native life forms.
5. He owns a James Bond car
What good is having gobs of money if you can't spend it on lavishly cool things? The one-of-a-kind object in this case is the Lotus Esprit from the 1977 James Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me, which (spoiler alert!) turns into a submarine after Bond and his beautiful female companion zoom off a pier to escape the enemy. Known as "Wet Nellie," the stunt car languished for years in a storage unit before being sold to an anonymous buyer at a London auction in 2013. After the buyer was revealed to be Musk, he released a statement in which he expressed disappointment that the car did not actually turn into a real submarine, adding, "What I'm going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real." Spoken like a man with his priorities firmly in place.