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The Elon Musk guide to Mars, green tech, and juggling children with email (Hint: Use nannies)

SpaceX
SpaceX

During his SXSW Interactive keynote, PayPal founder Elon Musk, now backing three companies that chart a greener, spacier future, talked about his ambitions for space travel and shared his somewhat unusual parenting style: Playing with his five kids with one hand while emailing with the other.

“My children are awesome,” he told Chris Anderson, the former editor in chief of Wired who interviewed Musk as the Saturday SXSW keynote, before admitting he does not see them as often as he probably should.

Musk then added that he had found a partial solution, however, which involved making sure a nanny was always present — “So they don’t kill each other” — and making sure he stayed productive with one hand firmly emailing while the other doted out paternal love to his brood.

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It’s comes at a time when chief executive parenting is in the spotlight, but despite Anderson’s shock (he has five kids of his own, and said he couldn’t mix email with children), Musk was unapologetic.

The moment only bolstered the Tony Stark-like reputation Musk has developed: His first company, Zip2, sold to AltaVista for $307 million cash plus additional stock and his second company, PayPal, went to eBay for $1.5 billion in stock.

And now, his three ventures, if successful, promise to change the world even more dramatically:

SolarCity, for which Musk is the primary investor and board chairman, offers home and business solar paneling as well as charging stations and retrofits for electric cars. During the talk, musk addressed why he’s bullish about American solar because of subsidies for China manufacturing: “That’s like getting free money from the Chinese!” SolarCity buys paneling from other manufacturers, and so has profited from the price competition.

Tesla Motors, for which Musk is co-founder and head of product design, produces electric vehicles, starting with a high-end luxury vehicle dubbed the Tesla Roadster and now branching out to more affordable, everyday vehicles, in addition to providing electric systems for other car manufacturers.

SpaceX, of which Musk is the chief executive and CTO, develops space launch vehicles. Musk spoke about the fear and frustration of every flight, particularly in the first three launches when rocket failures marred the plans, and left Musk helping clean up pieces of rocket from a nearby coral reef.

During the presentation, however, he announced that tests had gone well, with SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocketing to a height of 24 stories, hovering for about half a minute, and then descending again in one piece, bringing Musk one step closer to his dream of a reusable stage one rocket. Watch the Grasshopper in action.

But in addition to everything on his plate, Musk told Anderson that one of his New Year’s resolutions was to enjoy life more.

“Last year was a year of great achievements, but I didn’t have that much fun,” he said. “I’d like to take it down a scooch.”

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