Rocket Man or Iron Man? (SpaceX)

The sci-fi thriller Iron Man 2 hit theaters on May 7 and was given generally favorable reviews (it scored 75 percent on Much of its success was down to the action-packed storyline and solid performances by the cast. However, it turns out that the lead character was also inspired by a real-world space entrepreneur.

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Director Jon Favreau was trying to build the character of the mega-rich comic book hero Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) before the original Iron Man movie hit our screens in 2008. But to create a believable Stark, Favreau needed inspiration.

“We need to sit down with Elon Musk,” Downey told Favreau during the planning stages of the first Iron Man movie.

In Time‘s “The World’s Most Influential People” of 2010, Favreau writes about how the South Africa-born SpaceX CEO inspired him, putting him in the spotlight as one of the world’s most influential “thinkers” of 2010.

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Favreau decided that Elon Musk would be the ideal guy to base his fictional Tony Stark character on. Musk may not have a miniature “arc reactor” plugged into his chest, be fighting bad guys with electrical whips or own a company that develops advanced weaponry (although his rockets are rather impressive), he does possess a genius playboy appeal that the Iron Man director couldn’t ignore.

“Downey was right. Elon is a paragon of enthusiasm, good humor and curiosity — a Renaissance man in an era that needs them,” said Favreau.

Interestingly, the SpaceX Hawthorn HQ (in Los Angeles, Calif.) also appeared as the factory scene for Stark’s nemesis Ivan Vanko’s (Mickey Rourke).

Musk — the same guy who founded the PayPal e-commerce business — used his early successes to fund the private rocket manufacturing company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). He’s also making a push to revolutionize the electric car industry with Tesla Motors.

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Being an entrepreneurial rocket engineer with a dream to provide affordable spaceflight services, ultimately aiming to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), is undoubtedly impressive — an achievement of many years of hard work and dedication. But there is the feeling that the 38 year old is the rich and driven “playboy” everyone would love to aspire to. This is the reason why he was the man who provided inspiration for Stark (even though Downey’s character is a little more flamboyant).

This accolade also won Musk a 10-second cameo appearance in the most recent Iron Man outing.

So, having inspired the embodiment of a comic book hero, what’s next for Musk?

Later this month, he hopes to make history by launching the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The plan is to use this space vehicle to carry the SpaceX Dragon capsule into space so it can begin supply missions to the ISS.

Eventually, the Dragon could also provide “taxi rides” for NASA astronauts into low-Earth orbit (LEO), providing a cost-effective service to the US space agency and (hopefully) spearheading a new age in space exploration.

So watch this space, I get the feeling the SpaceX Iron Man is only just warming up.

Sources: Time, egrmCarTech