It seems like every day that you turn on the news, Elon Musk is making headlines. This time, his company SpaceX is launching its Falcon Heavy rocket today, Feb. 6th at 3:45 PM. The Falcon Heavy is, according to SpaceX, one of the largest and most powerful rockets in the world (or solar system, for that matter).
Of course, this wouldn’t be a “Muskian” thing to do without some of his unique flair — technically, Elon is launching two vehicles tomorrow. That is, perched inside of the Falcon Heavy rocket is a Cherry Read Tesla Roadster from Musk’s other forward-looking company, Tesla Motors.
What’s the Launch About?
Here’s what you need to know about the launch:
- SpaceX is launching its largest rocket, called the Falcon Heavy, on Tuesday afternoon at 3:45 PM EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida. As the cargo, The Tesla Roadster will be onboard. The aim of the launch is to fly a reusable rocket to Mars and advance the effort of space exploration.
- Should the launch be successful, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful and biggest rocket to be launched into space in almost four decades (NASA’s Saturn V was launched in 1973). Although it is subject to debate, SpaceX has described the Falcon Heavy on its website as the most powerful rocket ever built, with specs that include:
- The Falcon Heavy is built from 3 boosters of SpaceX’s smaller rocket, the Falcon 9. The rockets from SpaceX are designed to be reusable, with two of the rockets making up the 3 boosters to be from previous SpaceX launches. In an effort to cut costs and show proof of concept, SpaceX is attempting to recover all three boosters, with the two old boosters aiming for a side-by-side vertical touchdown at Cape Canaveral. The new and more powerful center core will attempt to land on a floating ocean platform.
- At liftoff, the rocket is projected to put out 5 million pounds of thrust (for the laymen, the rocket is equivalent to 18 Boeing 747 aircrafts at full throttle). The aim is that the Falcon Heavy will set a precedent for cargo capacity and will be capable of lifting large satellites into orbit and other spacecraft to other planets.
- The cargo capacity of the 70-meter-long Falcon Heavy could carry an estimated 37,000 pounds, suitable for both cargo and crew for future missions to Mars.
According to reports, when the rocket reaches zero gravity, it will be released on an elliptical orbit around the sun and, at one stage, will make a close pass by Mars. But that journey won’t be a silent one. The Cherry Red Tesla Roadster is programmed to play one of pop singer David Bowie’s hits, the rocket-themed song “Space Oddity.” A fitting tribute to the deceased leader of The Spiders from Mars and a classy nod from Musk, showing his attention to detail when it comes to the zeitgeist.
Naturally, an event of this magnitude is generating a lot of buzz not seen since the last NASA space shuttle flight in 2011. On Tuesday, it’s expected that there will be record numbers in attendance at the Kennedy Space Center to watch the Falcon Heavy launch, with tickets selling out well in advance for close-up viewing options charmingly titled “Feel the Heat” and “Closest Package.”
The cause, according to Phil Larson, is the magnitude of the launch itself. Larson, an assistant dean at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who used to work for SpaceX and the Obama administration, adds, “When you’re talking about what would be the biggest and largest operational launch vehicle in the world, that adds another dimension of excitement.”
Adding to this anticipation has been the many trials and tribulations from Musk’s own SpaceX camp. The Falcon Heavy program has experienced multiple delays and setbacks in the five years leading up to Tuesday’s launch. Even Musk himself was open to admit that his team was “pretty naive” and that development had been “way harder” than he had first conceptualized. With a successful launch, SpaceX can vindicate its efforts and boost consumer interest in space flight.
Why a Cherry Red Tesla Roadster?
In Musk’s words, it was either “extremely boring” steel beams or a Cherry Red Tesla Roadster for cargo. Musk went with the shiny red car which, in reference to the Falcon Heavy’s nearby pass to Mars, he added via Twitter, offers another sly wink of showmanship to his ambitions. “Red car for a red planet,” he tweeted in a Twitter announcement in December.
While no one can fault Musk for his blatant cross promotion campaign, it should be noted that the Tesla Roadster is also a showstopper all its own, making recent headlines about its boundary-pushing capabilities. According to the company’s website, the electric-powered Roadster is capable of 0 to 60 in a staggering 1.9 seconds, a top speed of 250 MPH, and a mile range of 620 miles (or, the distance between New York City and Detroit, MI). It’s no wonder that the demand for Roadsters (and other Tesla vehicles) remains high among car enthusiasts, first adopters, and tech savvy individuals.
For more info about the Tesla Roadster, visit the Tesla Motors website https://www.tesla.com/roadster
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To many futurists, Musk is a maverick pioneer for what it means to live in the 21st Century. While the image of his ambitions on social media (particularly Instagram) may be seem like generating an oversized amount of hype and an obvious publicity stunt, the implications are real. Considering SpaceX is a commercially-funded venture, it might not be unrealistic to be sending personal vehicles into space in the future.
Musk’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, with private individuals and government organizations taking note. SpaceX already has customers lining up to purchase similar rockets to the Falcon Heavy, including the United States Air Force. And privately-funded competition isn’t far behind; Blue Origin, the rocket company led by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, has also been developing a large reusable orbital-class rocket, named New Glenn in honor of the first American to orbit the world, John Glenn.
If history is any precedent, look for Musk to make headlines again in the near future with bolder and grander attempts at reaching for the stars… and beyond.