Skip to main content

Elon Musk is one of the leading figures in modern technological advancement. No one gets as far as he has without standing on the shoulders of giants. It might surprise some of Musk’s fans to know that one of his major influences lies outside of the realm of reality.

Science fiction often inspires actual scientists and other innovators. Musk is no exception. Here’s how a popular sci-fi series changed his worldview and inspired SpaceX.

Elon Musk in San Francisco, California| Mike Windle/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

The sci-fi god who inspired Elon Musk

Isaac Asimov is one of the most famous and acclaimed sci-fi writers of the 20th century. Much like Mary Shelley and Aldous Huxley before him, Asimov was very interested in the moral questions which would be raised by scientific advancement. Asimov is most known for creating the Three Laws of Robotics, a trio of rules Asimov felt every robot should abide by.

One of Asimov’s most popular works is the Foundation series. The Foundation series includes several novels and short stories set in a shared fictional universe a la Marvel movies or Stephen King’s novels. These books revolve around a Galactic Empire whose fall is imminent. A professor named Hari Seldon foresees the Empire’s collapse and gets a group of engineers and scientists to work together in an attempt to preserve civilization.

Some fans believe the Foundation series was an influence on George Lucas when he created Star Wars. Notably, Star Wars has a Galactic Empire of its own. The Foundation series also influenced another famous billionaire: Elon Musk.

How a book inspired Elon Musk to take us into space

Elon Musk standing beside a rocket March 19, 2004 in El Segundo, Los Angeles, California | Paul Harris/Getty Images

Musk is a bookworm and, according to Rolling Stone, he read the Foundation series as a youngster. He noted the parallels between the series and The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a famous and controversial history book by Edward Gibbon. Musk says these parallels influenced his worldview. “Asimov certainly was influential because he was seriously paralleling Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but he applied that to a sort of modern galactic empire. The lesson I drew from that is you should try to take the set of actions that are likely to prolong civilization, minimize the probability of a dark age and reduce the length of a dark age if there is one.”

According to CNBC, the Foundation series taught Musk how civilizations move in cycles. Musk would prefer to prolong an upward cycle for the human race. He feels humanity should act on the possibility of moving life beyond earth. Many other futurists have proposed this idea as a solution to the environmental challenges humanity is facing. This idea is what spurred Musk to found SpaceX, a company designed to make space travel affordable.

Maybe SpaceX will help save humanity from itself. Maybe it’ll just become the outer space equivalent of a commercial airline. Regardless, you can’t blame Musk for trying to save civilization.

Also see: What We Know About the Upcoming ‘Star Wars’ Film Set on an Evil Planet