SpaceX Sent A Tesla Into Space And It’s Awesome
A little higher than that. A little higher. Keep going!
When I was a child, I was promised robots, epic space battles, and lunar colonies as part of my future. I’ve already covered robots in depth (and possibly to death), so perhaps it’s time to set my sights a little higher. Today, I would like to talk about space, rocket ships, and examine just how close we are to colonizing Mars.
On Saturday, amateur astronaut and Flat-Earth enthusiast Mike Hughes hopped aboard his homemade steam rocket and…. Couldn’t even get it to turn on. There has been no explanation as to why it wouldn’t turn on, but Mr. Hughes is far from deterred. He’s going to crack open that rocket, poke around at its guts, and getting working for another launch later in the year. When this happens, he will prove that the Earth is, in fact, flat. It is a noble mission, and I personally would like to wish him luck.
Just not too much luck, in case it turns out he’s wrong and the Earth is actually a sphere.
In the meantime, on Tuesday, not only did SpaceX manage to turn on its Falcon Heavy rocket, but it also successfully launched it into space. The Falcon Heavy is piloted by Starman, a mannequin dressed in the incredibly sleek space suits SpaceX designed for NASA, and carries a cherry red Tesla Roadster in place of the standard concrete and steel mass simulator. David Bowie’s Space Oddity blasted the entire way up, and it sounds like it will continue to play as long as there’s life in the rocket.
Say what you will about Elon Musk and his fear of robots, but I can’t deny that he’s approaching space travel with a dramatic sense of style that I can’t help but admire. Other little easter eggs contained on the Falcon Heavy include a data storage device with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and a plaque of SpaceX employee names.
What is this unique payload’s mission? Aside from testing the viability of a new configuration for the tried and true Falcon 9 rockets, the Falcon Heavy’s course was to coast six hours through the Earth’s Van Allen belt, then slip into a precessing elliptical orbit between Earth and Mars for… roughly a billion years, give or take. There was a possibility of the rocket’s fuel freezing during the trip through the Van Allen belt, but it looks like it made it through okay and was able to fire off the engines one last time in order to place itself in orbit.
So, now there is a Tesla out floating around in space. For a billion years. It sounds stupid and superfluous, just another publicity stunt from a rich man with a grossly inflated ego, much like the Humanity Star, and I love it. Launching the Tesla into space was not purely a vanity project; the Falcon Heavy needed to be tested, and we all know about how eager Musk is to get to Mars. Similarly, the Falcon Heavy needed a mass simulator, and as Musk himself said, “[concrete blocks] seems extremely boring.”
Elon Musk did not have to put a Tesla in the rocket. He didn’t have to dress up a mannequin in a space suit, play David Bowie, or pepper the the payload with all kinds of nerdy sci-fi references. But he did, and it’s fun. And I think we need a little fun in our space exploration program.
It’s bittersweet, in a way, that it took a billionaire playboy futurist to make space exciting again, because all the easter eggs aside, we haven’t really had an interesting, inspiring space program since the Space Race of the 60s. Not that NASA hasn’t tried, but being a government program means their capabilities are a little bit limited by budgets and bureaucracy. This is why, despite the fact that we’ve had the technology to go to the moon for years, it feels like the private sector is reinventing the wheel.
Or rather, the rocket, as the case may be.
Now the question is, will Elon Musk’s Tesla be the proverbial flag on the moon that spurs us into a second great space race, this time between the private sector and NASA? It’s hard to say. The current presidential administration has talked about redirecting funding from the International Space Station towards putting us back on the moon, but it could still take years before NASA is able to put together a moon-bound vehicle. And once we get there, what will we do? The brief trips of the past won’t really be enough to justify the enormous cost of sending rockets to the moon. And what will the astronauts do in the meantime?
The future, as always, is hard to predict. But for now, I’m going to put on some David Bowie, a sweet pair of sunglasses, and pretend I’m the Starman driving that gorgeous midnight cherry Roadster through the galaxy.