Somewhere in the cloudless skies over the SpaceX proving grounds near McGregor, Texas, a gigantic 10-story rocket emerges from the smoke of liftoff and descends slowly, carefully to the landing pad. It comes to a rest just as spaceships should: balanced vertically, Buck Rogers-style, on four steaming hydraulic legs. 

At mission control, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk watches the show with an unimaginable satisfaction. The vertical takeoff / vertical landing Falcon 9 rocket (aka "Grasshopper") being tested out there represents the next big leap in the space industry — a cheap, reusable rocket that can not only withstand the stress of re-entry and multiple missions, but do so with comic-book style.

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And that is the signature of a true Elon Musk project — one part hard science, one part cold business and one part straight up sci-fi.

It's that combination that has earned the 42-year-old South Africa native his place behind the controls at SpaceX — a company he founded in 2002 to serve (and define) the commercial space industry.

Space X GrasshopperIt's also that combination that has enabled his other company — Tesla Motors — to bring his utterly futuristic, utterly powerful electric cars from the narrow luxury market to mainstream America.

And, finally, it's that combination that has earned him his rank as IndustryWeek's 2013 Technology Leader of the Year.

 A Clear Vision

Twenty years ago, IW began celebrating the scientists, leaders and visionaries who are responsible for shaping and advancing the progress of technology — be it high-tech gadgetry or lab science, software or hardware. 

In the past, we have highlighted the work of Microsoft's (IW 500/16) Bill Gates and GE's (IW 500/6) Jeff Immelt, and even Francis Collins and J. Craig Venter, the pioneers of genomics. And now, Elon Musk, with his spaceships and Roadsters, his Hyperloop and software empires, joins their ranks. And deservedly so.

Musk, perhaps more than anyone in the industry today, maintains a clear vision for what real 21st century technology is supposed to do and what kind of future it is supposed to be creating. 

In pursuit of that vision, through his early work at Paypal and Zip2, then SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity, and with projects like the Hyperloop, 3-D modeling and autonomous driving, Musk has recreated, rejuvenated and redefined every industry he has encountered, from media and finance to transportation and energy.

Somewhere in there he has created a new world of technology according to his own idea of the future — a future based equally on physics and 50 years' worth of unfulfilled promises left by science fiction. 

And in that vision is the logic of the future — the future according to Musk.