Paypal co-founder Elon Musk admitted recently that he was wholly unprepared for the immediate success of the groundbreaking electronic payment service. When he and his partners turned on the switch for PayPal in 2000, the startup was immediately deluged with far more transactions than his small staff could handle. He immediately called in a fulfillment service in Kansas to deal with the huge volume of orders. He now admits that those Kansas workers saved his bacon in the early days of PayPal.
Since then, the serial entrepreneur and audacious Big Thinker has never looked back. Musk sold PayPal to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion and used the funds to launch a batch of startups, including electric car maker Tesla, solar installation specialist SolarCity and, grandest of all, Space Exploration Technologies Inc., or SpaceX.
While Tesla has had its ups and downs, and SolarCity is a decidedly low-profile enterprise by Musk’s standards, SpaceX has propelled the South African-born entrepreneur to the status of a visionary in the nascent U.S. commercial space industry.
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Musk thinks big, talks big and, so far, has backed it up with two successful flights by his Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station. The latest was the first official resupply mission under a 12-mission, $1.6 billion NASA contract. The cash infusion has provided Musk and SpaceX with a needed cushion as company engineers ready a “man-rated” version of the Dragon spacecraft that could someday carry as many as seven astronauts into orbit.