Elon Musk launched a car into space on the most powerful rocket in the world
This afternoon SpaceX successfully launched the 23-story Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. (Fifty years ago, the Apollo 11 mission launched from the same pad.) The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in the world, due to its 27 engines, and three reusable 134-foot-tall boosters. Company founder and flamethrower salesman Elon Musk told reporters he was concerned something might go wrong, since the rocket's explosive power equivalent to four million pounds of TNT. But luckily the launch went off without a hitch.
The Falcon Heavy is soaring into space to follow Mars in an elliptical orbit around the sun. And it's carrying a pretty interesting payload: Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster. Musk himself isn't sitting in the electric luxury vehicle, but the driver's seat is occupied by a dummy in a spacesuit nicknamed "Starman." There's also several video cameras, which are broadcasting a live stream to YouTube. "They should really provide some epic views if they work and everything goes well." said Musk.
And just when you think this can't get any cooler, the car was blasting David Bowie songs during the launch.
The purpose of the inaugural mission is to see if the Falcon Heavy can take objects into orbit. Last year, somebody asked Musk on Twitter what he would use as a test payload. He replied, "The silliest thing you can imagine!" As you can see, he pretty much nailed it.
In the riskiest stage of the journey, the Falcon Heavy will spend six hours coasting through the infamous Van Allen belt, which contains intense fields of radiation. "It's going to get whacked pretty har by high-energy particles," said Musk. "The fuel could freeze, and the oxygen could be vaporized, all of which could inhibit the third burn which is necessary for trans-Mars injection." If the rocket survives this perilous maneuver, its engines will fire up and the Roadster will fly in space indefinitely. (Or at least, until an alien steals it.)
The Falcon Heavy basically consists of three Falcon 9 rockets, but only costs about 45% more than a Falcon 9. At a cost of $90 million per launch, it's a bargain. The keys to the low price tag are its extremely reusable boosters. The two outer boosters detached about nine miles from the launch site. The central site booster missed its landing site on a barge, plunging into the Atlantic Ocean, but that's considered normal.
Should the mission become a total success, it could change the launch industry. Thanks to The Falcon Heavy's relatively cheap cost, SpaceX could attract major interest from NASA, The U.S. Military and commercial customers. And this is just the beginning. Musk says his system could become even more powerful, matching the power of NASA's famous Saturn V, and carry a payload all the way to Pluto. With NASA gearing up to send spacecrafts to the moon again, it's certainly good timing for Musk's company.
We're probably still a long way off from taking space vacations, but until then we can all enjoy the view with Starman on the video stream.