Thu, Feb 08, 2018 - Page 1 News List

The world’s biggest rocket soars toward Mars carrying Tesla

AFP, CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida

Spectators at Cocoa Beach watch SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

The world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, on Tuesday blasted off on its highly anticipated maiden test flight, carrying chief executive Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster toward an orbit near Mars.

Screams and cheers erupted at mission control in Cape Canaveral, Florida, as the massive rocket fired its 27 engines and rumbled into the blue sky over the same NASA launchpad that served as a base for the US missions to the moon four decades ago.

“The mission went as well as one could have hoped,” an ecstatic Musk told reporters after the launch, calling it “probably the most exciting thing I have seen literally ever.”

“I had this image of a giant explosion on the pad with a wheel bouncing down the road with the Tesla logo landing somewhere,” he said. “Fortunately, that is not what happened.”

Loaded with Musk’s red Tesla and a mannequin in a spacesuit, the monster rocket’s historic test voyage captured the world’s imagination.

SpaceX’s Webcast showed the Tesla Roadster soaring into space, as David Bowie’s Space Oddity played in the background, with the words “DON’T PANIC” visible on the dashboard, in an apparent nod to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The Roadster was also outfitted with a data storage unit containing Isaac Asimov’s science fiction book series the Foundation Trilogy and a plaque bearing the names of 6,000 SpaceX employees.

Musk posted a live video showing the “Starman” mannequin appearing to cruise, its gloved hand on the wheel, through the darkness of space, with the Earth’s image reflected on the car’s glossy red surface.

He tweeted late on Tuesday night that the rocket’s upper stage had made a successful final burn, sending the car and its mannequin passenger out of Earth’s orbit into an orbit around the sun that brings it close to Mars.

After surviving a five-hour journey through the Van Allen Belt — a region of high radiation — the car now embarks on a journey through space that could last 1 billion years and take it as far as 400 million kilometers from Earth, the same as a trip around the equator 10,000 times.

“Maybe it will be discovered by some future alien race,” Musk told reporters. “What were these guys doing? Did they worship this car?”

About two minutes into the flight, the two side boosters peeled away from the center core and made their way back to Earth for an upright landing.

Both rockets landed side by side in unison on launchpads, live video images showed.

The third, center booster failed to land on an ocean platform — known as a droneship — as planned.

“It didn’t have enough propellant,” Musk said, adding that it plunged into the ocean about 100m away from its landing point.

Experts said the launch would likely catch the eye of NASA, which might consider using the Falcon Heavy as a way to fast-track its plans to reach the moon again.

US President Donald Trump offered his congratulations, tweeting: “This achievement, along with @NASA’s commercial and international partners, continues to show American ingenuity at its best!”

“Thank you on behalf of SpaceX. An exciting future lies ahead!” Musk replied.

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