"Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth," Elon Musk tweeted yesterday. The remarkable boast needed no ostentation; the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla had decreed it should happen - and, finally, it did. Of course, the sight of a Tesla Roadster in space is merely incidental to the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy, yet never was a dummy payload so famous. No-one will recall a Lotus Elise in 500 years, but they'll know about the electric Roadster that was blasted into the heavens; the name will be etched next to Laika, Albert II, Able, Baker and Ham the Chimp in the pub quiz annals.
The arrival of a car in orbit was made all the more remarkable by the fact that even Musk, publicly at least, only gave the operation a 50 per cent chance of success. The clue to the rocket's job is in its name (and enormous stature); to put significantly heavier payloads - as much as 63,800kg - into low Earth orbit much more cheaply than previously possible. Carrying much lighter loads - Roadsters, for example - all three stages of Falcon Heavy are intended to be reusable and, in the case of the maiden flight, the side boosters landed safely back at Cape Canaveral (although it lost the main engine to the Atlantic Ocean).
Low Earth orbit is just a pit stop for Musk, though. His ultimate focus is Mars, and, if all goes well, that is precisely where his Tesla is heading. Destined for the same heliocentric orbit that sent the Mariner missions on their way, the Roadster will in fact voyage beyond the Red Planet - carrying into the solar system its 'Starman' mannequin driver, a looped copy of Space Oddity by David Bowie, a copy of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in the glovebox (accompanied by a towel) and a sign on the dashboard which reads: Don't Panic.
Honestly, you couldn't make it up. Unless you're Elon Musk. Watch the full launch video below.
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