Mission SpaceX: All about the triumphant launch of Elon Musk's Falcon Heavy

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Fla. Feb. 6 2018

SpaceX's big new rocket blasted off Tuesday on its first test flight, carrying a red sports vehicle aiming for an endless road trip past Mars.

As a promotional stunt, SpaceX founder Elon Musk loaded the Falcon Heavy with his own cherry-red Tesla Roadster carrying a spacesuit-clad mannequin named "Starman" in the driver's seat.

Finally, both boosters came to a near-simultaneous stop at their separate launch pads.

The fins, first called X-wings, are used by the two side boosters to steer and control themselves for landing. Cameras on board the auto show it cruising by Earth, which appears as a big blue orb in the background.

Before the launch, Musk tweeted a simulation of what it would look like, complete with the space bound Tesla. Before dashing off to the red planet, Musk said he'd want to try out this spaceship in orbit around Earth - possibly in three to four years with the supersize rocket - and then the moon.

"It's kind of silly and fun", he said. The most important thing about this reusable spacecraft is that it can carry a payload equivalent to sending five double-decker London buses into space - which will be invaluable for future manned space exploration or in sending bigger satellites into orbit.

While that is only a fraction of the US$19.5 billion government allocation to Nasa - which receives just under 0.5 per cent of the overall United States government budget - the SpaceX launch is a potent symbol of the private sector's appetite for space.

By contrast, the scene of the Tesla in space "is something that's going to get people excited around the world. And it's still tripping me out". Finally, a thruster has to fire to put the vehicle on the right orbital course.


Following the launch, Musk tweeted: "Third burn successful".

The auto faces considerable speed bumps before settling into its intended orbit around the sun, an oval circle stretching from the orbit of Earth on one end to the orbit of Mars on the other.

While the imagery of Starman went viral, accolades started pouring in. He's also an inveterate tweeter, and a pleasure to follow on Twitter.

Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the National Space Council, congratulated SpaceX as well (and linked to Fox News, of course).

Some executives personally congratulated SpaceX and Musk. Behind the wheel was "Starman", clad in the same space suit that astronauts will wear during SpaceX's Crew Dragon flights to the International Space Station. Instead, an even more powerful rocket dubbed the "BFR" that is now making faster-than-expected development progress would be better suited, he said. "Musk said it's 'game over, ' and I believe that's true".

David Bowie never made it into space, but somewhere up there right now Major Tom is having a moment while looking back down on us.

Having set a new standard, Musk was ebullient, if overwhelmed. "So I think it's going to encourage other countries and companies to raise their sights and say 'Hey we can do bigger and better, which is great". "I think the smaller satellites are a way of adding resiliency by providing similar but not the entirely exact same capabilities to complement larger satellites, not to replace them".

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