- SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday afternoon.
- Instead of carrying steel or concrete to test the rocket’s capabilities, it launched a Tesla Roadster, helmed by a dummy named Starman.
- The Roadster has three cameras, which should provide some “epic views” of the journey to Mars orbit, Musk said.
Elon Musk and SpaceX could have tested the Falcon Heavy rocket’s ability to launch heavy objects into space the traditional way: by loading it with massive blocks of concrete or steel.
But instead, Musk launched his own midnight-cherry-red Tesla Roadster on Falcon Heavy, which successfully lifted off from its launchpad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday afternoon.
- Elon Musk/SpaceX; Instagram
A prettier payload than blocks of concrete or steel, the car is helmed by “Starman,” a dummy wearing the stylish yet functional SpaceX spacesuit.
“Silly, fun things are important,” Musk said of his payload choice during a press conference after Tuesday’s launch. “The imagery of it is something that’s going to get people excited around the world, and it’s still tripping me out. I’m tripping balls here.”
If everything goes according to plan, Musk says, the car will eventually enter Mars orbit, where it will fly through space for a few hundred million – maybe a billion – years, blasting David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” for as long as it can.
SpaceX has loaded the vehicle with three cameras, which are already beaming back its perspective of the cosmos as it travels through space.
“There’s going to be a bunch of sensors on the upper stage [of the rocket], so we’ll get a lot of data back, but I think the most fun stuff is going to be the three cameras that are mounted on the Roadster,” Musk said during a call with reporters on Monday. “They should really provide some epic views if they work and everything goes well.”
The feed won’t last forever, though – once the car’s battery dies after 12 hours, that’ll be it.
A complicated journey
The car took quite a journey to provide those views.
Ahead of the launch, SpaceX released an animation detailing the process of Falcon Heavy’s liftoff and the subsequent landing of its boosters. The rocket used three nine-engine boosters to launch out of Earth’s gravity. The Falcon 9, which SpaceX has launched many times, uses just one of these reusable boosters.
Two side boosters were released first, then were successfully redirected to landing sites in Florida to be refurbished and reused. The central one carried the fairing – the part of the rocket carrying the payload – a bit farther, giving it more of a push before it headed back toward a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. (Its final fate it still unclear.)
The upper stage of Falcon Heavy now has to travel through the extreme radiation of the Van Allen belt for about six hours, during which SpaceX is letting the payload coast. And those “epic views” Musk mentioned are indeed impressive, as you can see on this live feed:
It should take the car about six months to cover its 200-million-mile journey into Mars orbit. If all continues to go well, we are likely to continue getting unprecedented views of its route.