The image of a dummy at the wheel of a cherry red Tesla Roadster headed silently speeding toward Mars sounds like pure fiction. Only it’s not. If all goes well, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket will lift off 2:05 p.m. (Central Time), becoming the most powerful rocket to launch into space since the Saturn V that took astronauts to the moon nearly 50 years ago.
You’ll enjoy this Falcon Heavy animation. At the end, it appears the Roadster is going to Mars, but it’s not. It will only travel as far as Mars before looping back toward the sun on its orbit
While the mission’s a serious affair to test big rockets that will carry big payloads, SpaceX founder Elon Musk found a way to incorporate a bit of quirky humor by packing a Tesla Roadster as ballast. In the driver seat is a dummy named “Starman” wearing the company’s sleek new spacesuit. While the main rocket and its two boosters will return to Earth to be reused, Starman and his car will be sent into an orbit about the sun that will take the car nearly the distance of Mars. Conceivably, large telescopes will be able to track the Roadster at least when it’s relatively nearby.
Why would Musk want to throw away a $100,000 car? “I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future,” he said on Twitter.
Falcon Heavy will launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, the same place the Apollo spacecraft took off. To get an idea of the power of the Falcon Heavy, the three rockets — and their 27 engines (9 per booster) — together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft. After their fuel is used, each will fire retrorockets and land back on Earth. Two will land on the ground and one at sea on a drone-ship. Wow.
The launch will be live-streamed here if you want to watch. I’ll have updates if there are delays. It’s already been set back to
2:05 p.m. — now 2:45 p.m. CST — because of heavy winds. Let’s hope the launch is a success. Time to put the pedal to the metal.
** UPDATE: Launch was successful!