Gordon Moore's Thirty Meter Telescope
Gordon Moore's Thirty Meter Telescope by TMT Observatory Corporation (None)

13 Eccentric Projects of the Super-Rich

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What Does the Likes of Elon Musk Buy?
Phil Stafford/shutterstock

Rich Imagination

If money were no object, many of us might fix up an old car or remodel the house. Millionaires and billionaires use their fortunes to build spaceships, pursue immortality, create island nations, or mine asteroids. Looking for new challenges can boost their profiles, too —  Tesla founder Elon Musk, of course, just bought Twitter for a mere $44 billion. But that's not the only thing he's spent some serious loot on. Here's a look at 13 eccentric projects of the rich — many fortunately tilting toward advancing science, especially in our oceans or outer space — because you're not truly a member of the club without one. 

Related: The Most Wasteful Purchases by 25 Celebrities Who Went Broke

Elon Musk's Lotus Esprit from "The Spy Who Loved Me"
Elon Musk's Lotus Esprit from "The Spy Who Loved Me" by Jörg Behrens (CC BY-SA)

Elon Musk: James Bond for Real

Elon Musk is known for co-founding PayPal, spearheading Tesla and  SpaceX, and now, buying Twitter in an effort to make it more conducive to free speech. In between all that, he's been a mega-billionaire who toys with submarines, buying the tricked-out Lotus Esprit used in the James Bond movie "The Spy Who Loved Me" for around $1 million and telling reporters he wanted to turn it into a real submersible car. Since then, Musk announced that he has a design for a submarine car. He's also into robotics, of course, and has said his droid Optimus could eventually be bigger than Tesla. 

Related: Surprising Things Tesla Makes That Aren't Electric Cars

Let's Do the Robot

Dmitry Itskov: Immortality

Many have daydreamed what it would be like to live forever, but few have the cash to pursue that dream. Dmitry Itskov, a Russian media mogul who at just 31 had a net worth of more than $1 billion, gathered scientists and charged them with developing a way to turn humans slowly into biological robots. The final phase of the project, which involves the brain being downloaded into an immortal avatar, is targeted to be complete by 2045. 

Related: 40 Secrets of People Who Lived Past 100

A Real-Life Jurassic Park
Lukas Uher/shutterstock

Clive Palmer: Real-Life Jurassic Park

Most of us watched "Jurassic Park" and thought "Thank goodness it's just a far-fetched Hollywood flick." Not mining millionaire Clive Palmer, who was inspired to make his own. When the project was announced, there was speculation he might mean cloning real dinosaurs, but the finished product is merely animatronic versions — more than 160 — placed around Australia's Palmersaurus, making it the world's largest dinosaur park. It has since slipped into neglect and decay

Related: Once Popular Tourist Hotspots That Are Now Totally Abandoned

Deepsea Challenger
Deepsea Challenger by chrispit1955 (None)

James Cameron: Deep Sea Submarine

"Titanic" and "The Abyss" director James Cameron stops at nothing to bring a sense of realism to his aquatic adventures, though the $10 million he spent building the Deepsea Challenger might be a cap. He used the vessel for a record-setting dive in the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. Then he donated it to Massachusetts' Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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Peter Thiel's Cities in the Ocean
The Seasteading Institute

Peter Thiel: Cities in the Ocean

PayPal co-creator and Facebook investor Peter Thiel has his sights set on building a city in the ocean — several micro-nations, really. These tiny libertarian utopias imagined by his Blueseed project would be on diesel-powered, movable rigs weighing several thousand tons, but residents wouldn't be weighed down by welfare, minimum wage, or regulations. Funding for the project dried up, but the idea of floating cities has attracted renewed interest during the pandemic

Related: 18 Ways the Pandemic Has Changed Our Lives in 2020

Asteroid Mining

Google Billionaires and Friends: Asteroid Mining

The precious metals we need for our technology overflow in asteroids that pass near Earth, if only we could get at them. Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, James Cameron, and X Prize founder Peter Diamandis launched the Planetary Resources mining company to try — or, rather, to figure out a way to try, since no one really knows what's on those asteroids hurtling around us. Despite the successful launch of two test satellites, the venture ran into financial problems and its assets were sold.

Richard Branson's DeepFlight Submarine

Richard Branson: Deep Sea Submarine Project

What's with rich people and submarines? Branson, one of the world's most prolific billionaires (he operates some 360 companies), took over a deep-sea project after a friend's death. Virgin Oceanic's DeepFlight Challenger was being built to pilot Branson to the deepest points of the world's five oceans, but safety issues shelved it — and Cameron set the record first, anyway. There's no word what this cost Branson, but he eventually planned to charge as much as $500,000 for others to borrow the vessel.

Gordon Moore's Thirty Meter Telescope
Gordon Moore's Thirty Meter Telescope by TMT Observatory Corporation (None)

Gordon Moore: World's Largest Telescope

Intel co-founder Gordon Moore is a major bankroller of a $1.3 billion plan to build the world's largest telescope. At 10 times the power of the Hubble Space Telescope, it's known as the Thirty Meter Telescope for its diameter, but is also 18 stories high. The plan has been to build it on Hawaii's dormant Mauna Kea volcano, but that's been slowed by legal challenges over sacred lands. The ongoing dispute has led to consideration of a different site in the Canary Islands.  

Related: The 50 Greatest American Inventions of the Past 50 Years

Dennis Tito's Vacation to Mars

Dennis Tito: Vacation to Mars

Dennis Tito, a former NASA scientist, paid Russia $20 million in 2001 to become the very first space tourist. Tito must have been impressed, because he soon made plans to send two people on a 501-day journey around Mars in 2018, though that trip never got off the ground. Billionaire Tesla chief Elon Musk, however, expects his SpaceX company will land humans on Mars by 2026.

Google's Eric Schmidt's 'Searching for Marine Life' Research Vessel
Schmidt Ocean Institute

Google's Eric Schmidt: Research Vessel

Schmidt and his wife Wendy have used a reported $94 million for the creation of an ocean vessel called Falkor, which researchers can use for free so long as they share information with the public, and if selected in the first place. Falkor's first excursion located a polar exploration vessel that sank off Greenland in 1943. In 2020, a team aboard the Falkor found a coral reef taller than the Empire State Building in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. 

2013 Long Now Museum 126
2013 Long Now Museum 126 by future15pic (CC BY-NC-ND)
Robert Klark Graham's Master Race
Lisa S./shutterstock

Robert Klark Graham: A Master Race

Robert Klark Graham became a millionaire by inventing shatter-proof plastic eyeglass lenses, then set his sights on less well-received goals. From 1980 to 1997, he ran a eugenics-themed sperm bank, the Repository for Germinal Choice, for donations only from Nobel Prize laureates. With donors scarce, he expanded his criteria, reportedly accumulating donations from about 19 men. More than 215 children were born through the program.

Yusaku Maezawa & Patrick Seguin Awarded Chevalier Des Arts et Lettres
Luc Castel/Getty Images CC

Yusaku Maezawa: Moon Ride

They may be singing "Fly Me to the Moon" when Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his fellow travelers take off for a trip around Earth's nearest neighbor. This month, the fashion tycoon announced an invitation for eight people to join him on a SpaceX flight scheduled for 2023. Successful applicants will ride for free.