On Tuesday, Elon Musk launched a Tesla Roadster into orbit. Yes, an actual car launched at a speed of 18,000 mph and was cruising around Earth.
The car caught a ride into space with SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and is currently in the Van Allen belt, a region of intense radiation surrounding the Earth.
At 9:30 pm Eastern time Tuesday, the rocket is expected to fired again, sending the Tesla Roadster out of Earth’s orbit. The Falcon Heavy actually overshot its trajectory of sending the roadster to orbit near Mars. It’s now on its way to the asteroid belt. The iconic vehicle may cruise the solar system for millions of years (if radiation or space debris doesn’t rip it to shreds).
You can watch the replay of the live stream right here of the cherry-red Tesla convertible (with the top down!) with the entire planet Earth in its view. It’s helmed by a dummy in a spacesuit that Musk is calling “Starman” in a nod to David Bowie.
More exciting than the space car is perhaps the successful launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket — it is a monumental achievement for the company and for US spaceflight.
With 27 engines, the Falcon Heavy is capable of lifting 140,000 pounds into low Earth orbit. That makes it the most powerful rocket on Earth, viable for launching heavy satellites and future space stations into orbit. It has twice the towing capacity of any other rocket in use today.
“This powerful vehicle could open up entirely new types of business for SpaceX: launching heavy national security satellites or even sending large modules or people into deep space,” as The Verge’s Loren Grush writes. The Falcon Heavy is a viable option for ferrying cargo to Mars.
Two of its boosters detached from the ship and landed safely back on Earth, further proving the viability of reusable rocket parts (which can reduce the cost of space travel). A third booster failed to land on a drone ship, as The Verge reports.
The Falcon Heavy launched from the very same pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, that launched humans to the moon.
But what will people most likely remember from today? SpaceX’s Starman looking down at Earth from his gleaming red sports car.
- Loren Grush at The Verge explains what this moment means for SpaceX and the private spaceflight industry.
- At National Geographic, Michael Greshko describes what it was like to see two of the Falcon Heavy’s boosters land safely back on the ground: “In a short eight minutes, Falcon Heavy’s side boosters separated from the main stack, pirouetted in mid-air, and returned to land, as if the launch were being rewound.”
- At the Atlantic, Marina Koren explains how the launch restores the US’s capabilities to send heavy payloads into space. “The last time a powerful heavy-lift launch vehicle left Cape Canaveral was in 2011, when the Space Shuttle made its final flight after 30 years of ferrying astronauts back and forth from low-Earth orbit,” she writes.
- And what will become of the Roadster? Radiation will slowly tear it apart.
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