Elon Musk comes alive on social media: Part entrepreneur, part madman

Explore his social-media legacy of Teslas, a Mars city, a snail and a flatulent unicorn. Oh and fire 🔥, of course.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
1 of 18 Elon Musk

Tesla in space

While Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX, Tesla and The Boring Company, is active on Twitter, he truly comes alive through the medium of Instagram. This is where he drops enticing photos of electric cars, highlights hats and teases fans about flamethrowers. 

Musk posted a series of photos in December 2017 showing his personal red Tesla Roadster getting ready to (eventually) be launched into space on board a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. He gave us this simple message: "A Red Car for the Red Planet."

The Tesla will not actually end up on Mars, but will spend its life in a never-ending orbit around the sun if the Falcon launch goes as planned.

First published, Feb. 6, 2018. 
Update, May 7, 2018: Adds bricks, candy and party balloons.

2 of 18 Elon Musk

Tesla Roadster SpaceX

Elon Musk's personal roadster wasn't heading to space all alone as the payload on board the first Falcon Heavy rocket launch. Musk posted this early February 2017 look at a dummy called "Starman" sitting at the wheel of the car. 

Starman wears a SpaceX spacesuit and seems to be named after the cosmic David Bowie hit song.

3 of 18 Elon Musk

Tesla sketch pad art

Don't expect Elon Musk to quit his day job and become a full-time artist. He posted these two sketches on Twitter in March 2017 to illustrate what you can do with the Tesla sketch pad Easter egg. The surprise feature lets you draw on the vehicle's touchscreen. And yes, that appears to be a farting unicorn.

4 of 18 Elon Musk

A Boring hat

The Boring Company sold 50,000 of these branded hats thanks in part to the excitement Elon Musk built over social media. Musk posted this picture on Instagram in late 2017 with the now-classic message "Best hat ever. Flamethrower coming next." 

Ha ha! Yeah right, a flamethrower is coming. Whatever, Elon. And then the flamethrower actually did come.

5 of 18 Elon Musk

Boring flamethrower

Ever since Elon Musk unveiled The Boring Company hats, he's been promising a flamethrower as a follow-up. He delivered on that oddball idea with the preorder release of thousands of Boring-branded flamethrowers in February 2017. 

An Instagram look at Musk wielding one of the fiery machines helped with the hype. That's him standing off to the side, shooting it into the air. All 20,000 flamethrowers sold out.

6 of 18 The Boring Company/Elon Musk

(Not a) Flamethrower

With hot, hot hype exploding all around The Boring Company flamethrower, Elon Musk tossed out a teasing revamp of the product page poking fun at concerns about whether it would be legal to ship the fiery product. Musk's edit changes the name to "Not a Flamethrower."

The Boring Company had no trouble selling out of the branded flamethrowers.

7 of 18 SpaceX/Elon Musk

A new kind of spacesuit

Elon Musk isn't content to just invent things that work, he wants them to look good too. He posted a first look at SpaceX's astronaut suit in August 2017 and it would fit right in on the set a futuristic sci-fi film. It's sleek, but it still offers a wide view out of the helmet.

"Worth noting that this actually works (not a mockup). Already tested to double vacuum pressure. Was incredibly hard to balance esthetics and function. Easy to do either separately," Musk wrote.

While the photo appears to show a field of stars out the nearby window, it could be some time before the suit is worn by a real human test subject in space.

8 of 18 SpaceX/Elon Musk

Spacesuit and a Dragon

In case the SpaceX spacesuit close-up wasn't enough, Musk posted a full-body look at the suit posed in front of a Dragon crew capsule on Sept. 8, 2017. It shows how much the aesthetics of the spacesuit play off the look of the capsule. They truly look made for each other. 

9 of 18 Elon Musk/Tesla

Model 3 in silhouette

The debut of every new Tesla electric vehicle is an exercise in hype, promise, excitement, and, eventually, delivery. Elon Musk promoted the unveiling webcast for the Model 3 in early 2016 with this effective bit of Instagram advertising showing the car draped in an elegant silhouette. 

The silhouette teaser isn't new for Tesla. Musk posted a similar take on the Model X to Twitter back in late 2015.

10 of 18 Tesla/Elon Musk

A semi cometh

After what felt like an eternity of speculation, Tesla finally made an official unveiling of its electric semi truck in late 2017. Before we got a good a look at the beast, Elon Musk posted a dramatic photo on Twitter showing a head-on look at the vehicle with lights a-blazing. 

Musk, always quick with a joke, wrote, "It can transform into a robot, fight aliens and make one hell of a latte."

11 of 18 Elon Musk/Boring Company

Tunnel Tesla

Elon Musk's Boring Company has ambitious plans to create a network of underground tunnels to carry vehicles and relieve over-ground transportation tangles. There's no better way to hype the concept than combining a Tesla with a test tunnel. That's exactly what Musk did in an Instagram post showing a Model S electric car tucked into a cozy tunnel in late August 2017.

12 of 18 Elon Musk

Moon Base Alpha

One reason people follow Elon Musk on social media is to look at the future through his eyes. He made good on that forward-thinking vision with a couple of images shared on Instagram in September 2017. One shows Moon Base Alpha, a concept of what a possible SpaceX base on the moon might look like. 

The image shows tiny astronauts working on the moon's surface to unload cargo from a SpaceX craft. Dome-shaped dwellings look like little hills in the distance. It manages to feel both sci-fi and feasible at the same time.

13 of 18 Elon Musk

Mars City

Elon Musk posted this scenic concept image to social media in late September 2017. He calls it "Mars City," and it's a look ahead at what he imagines a colonized Mars might look like (full of SpaceX spacecraft, of course). 

"Opposite of Earth. Dawn and dusk sky are blue on Mars and day sky is red," Musk wrote

14 of 18 Elon Musk

Boring snail race

The giant tunnel-boring machine used by The Boring Company is automatically cool, but it takes a true showman to bring a snail into the picture. Musk posted an image showing both the machine and a pet snail named Gary in early May 2017.

"The race between Gary, our pet snail who lives in a pineapple, and Godot, our tunnel boring machine, begins soon!" Musk wrote

It's uncertain which won the race, though Gary seems to have a definite speed advantage. Musk offered this message on Twitter: "Gary (the snail) is a speed demon. Long way to go before we beat him/her."

15 of 18 Elon Musk/SpaceX

The Dragon lands

Concept art can be very powerful. Take this image of a SpaceX Dragon crew capsule landing on a distant planet as an example. Is it the moon? Is it Mars? Could that be me inside one day?

Elon Musk shared this art on Instagram back in the fall of 2015, but it still sparks the imagination. The Dragon crew capsule isn't just supposed to sit around and look pretty. It's supposed to take humans off the planet one day. Musk's social-media activity won't let us forget the biggest goals.

16 of 18 Elon Musk

Tunneling for bricks

On May 7, Elon Musk dropped a fascinating little tidbit on Twitter, saying his Boring Company tunneling side project would turn dirt from the digs into bricks for low-cost housing. This image shows a Boring Company tunneling machine.

While this sounds like a noble endeavor, Musk failed to elaborate on how the brick-making would work. 

17 of 18 Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Candy man?

Would you buy candy from Elon Musk? He sure seems to think so. On May 5, Musk unleashed a parade of tweets saying he was going to start a candy company. Just to make sure we might possibly believe him, he also tweeted he is "super super serious" about doing this.

Musk went on to Twitter-muse about the plot to Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory ("really messed up") and tweeted a single intriguing word: "cryptocandy." What does it all mean? Musk is probably the only person who knows for sure.

18 of 18 SpaceX

Party balloons for rockets

Elon Musk is really into recycling when it comes to expensive SpaceX rockets, which is why he tweeted in April that the company would use a giant party balloon to "bring rocket upper stage back from orbital velocity."

On the surface, that sounds a little nutty, but it's likely a play on a tech concept that's been around for a while called a ballute. A ballute is an inflatable parachute-like device that could bring back the part of the rocket system that is typically left to burn up in the atmosphere. 

This image shows a Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX has successfully reused the rockets' first stages, but has yet to attempt to reclaim an upper stage.

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