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In 2001, Musk conceptualized "Mars Oasis"; a project to land a miniature experimental greenhouse on Mars, containing food crops growing on Martian regolith, in an attempt to regain public interest in space exploration.

The group met again with Kosmotras, and were offered one rocket for , however, this was seen by Musk as too expensive; Musk consequently stormed out of the meeting.

On the flight back from Moscow, Musk realized that he could start a company that could build the affordable rockets he needed.

Musk calculated that the raw materials for building a rocket actually were only 3 percent of the sales price of a rocket at the time.

He is the founder, CEO and CTO of Space X; co-founder, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors; co-founder and chairman of Solar City, co-chairman of Open AI; co-founder of Zip2; and founder of which merged with Pay Pal of Confinity. In addition to his primary business pursuits, he has also envisioned a high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop, and has proposed a VTOL supersonic jet aircraft with electric fan propulsion, known as the Musk electric jet.

Musk was initially educated at private schools, attending the English-speaking Waterkloof House Preparatory School.

Musk later graduated from Pretoria Boys High School and moved to Canada in June 1989, just before his 18th At the age of 19, Musk was accepted into Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, for undergraduate study.

In 1992, after spending two years at Queen's University, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where, at the age of 24, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from its College of Arts and Sciences, and a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from its Wharton School of Business.

Musk extended his studies for one year to finish the second bachelor's degree.

In 1995, at age 24, Musk moved to California to begin a Ph D in applied physics and materials science at Stanford University, but left the program after two days to pursue his entrepreneurial aspirations in the areas of the Internet, renewable energy and outer space. The merged company focused on the Pay Pal service and was renamed Pay Pal in 2001.

Pay Pal's early growth was driven mainly by a viral marketing campaign where new customers were recruited when they received money through the service.

Musk was ousted in October 2000 from his role as CEO (although he remained on the board) due to disagreements with other company leadership, notably over his desire to move Pay Pal's Unix-based infrastructure to Microsoft Windows.