"Stop daydreaming!” we tell kids. “Be realistic! Temper your dreams to what’s achievable in the real world!” How easily we knock dreams out of our children, then wonder why we no longer live in an optimistic age.
Elon Musk was born in 1971, almost two years to the day after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. It was an exciting time, when it felt as though anything might be possible. We were on our way to a Star Trek future, where peace had been achieved and people were moving out into the stars.
As a boy, there was nothing hugely out of the ordinary about Elon Musk, certainly nothing that would lead people to suspect that he would grow up to change the world.
He was a late developer as a baby, taking so long to learn to speak that his parents thought he might be deaf. At school he was bullied and had no friends. Instead, he spent hours reading books from his local library, exploring the world, space, and beyond, in the turning of the pages.
He took an interest in computers, and taught himself to code within just a few days. He created a Space Invaders themed computer game called Blastar (which you can still play online) and sold the code for $500.
And like most young people, he dreamed large dreams about how he would one day change the world.
Imagine if people had told him: Grow up! Stop daydreaming! Be realistic!
In fact, many did but Elon refused to listen. He moved to the United States, enrolled in college, and set about making his dreams a reality.
Putting his computer programming skills to good use, he founded companies, including PayPal that in time earned him the millions, then billions he needed to finance his ideas.
Among those ideas was his dream of people living on Mars. He envisioned a future that is still before us — people creating habitable structures on Mars and living there in cities as an interplanetary species. Maybe even terra-forming the planet so that humans could live outside, directly on the surface itself. Imagine living on the slopes of Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the whole solar system at 14 miles high — two and a half times higher than Mount Everest – and the views you would enjoy as you farmed its fertile soil.
Elon knew that The Mars Society, which shared his dream, was attempting to send mice into orbit around Earth. But the project needed funding. Elon offered to give them the money — but only if they would change their plans. Instead of sending the mice into orbit, he wanted to send them all the way to Mars and back. The journey takes over a year, so the mice that were sent out would not be the same ones that came back. Rather, it would be their descendants that returned to Earth.
Of course, for all his dreaming, Elon never believed that getting to Mars would be easy, and so far it hasn’t been. The first rocket he built, the Falcon 1, blew up shortly after taking off. The second rocket he built did the same — then the third.
Now things were getting hairy. As much money as Elon has, it costs a lot to build a rocket to get into space, and now the money was running out. The fourth launch had to succeed, or the dream would be over. People told him he was crazy to bet his entire fortune on building rockets that might never work. But Elon was determined. The fourth rocket was constructed and ready to go. With a cool demeanor, Elon watched as it left the launch pad and rose majestically into space. It had worked!
Elon Musk exemplifies the human spirit, that reaches for the stars and never wavers, no matter how tough things get. He believes that progress can only be made if we’re all willing to talk to each other and exchange ideas. And he’s staking his personal fortune on building a future that’s better for all of humanity. What better role model for all the dreamers out there can there be?