Earlier this afternoon, as a multitude of anxious space exploration fans watched with bated breath, the Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off from the NASA Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida. With all 27 individual Merlin engines lit, the trio of boosters providing more than 5 million pounds of thrust, the Falcon Heavy became the world’s most powerful rocket currently in service, officially launching us into a second Space Age.
Once the first stage was complete, the spent rockets were jettisoned and aimed back at Earth. Moments later, the two side boosters successfully touched down simultaneously on the ground in Florida. The third booster was supposed to land on a drone ship out in the Atlantic, but as it approached, the camera feed cut out due to the extreme vibrations. It’s not yet known if it landed successfully or not, but it’s believed to have crashed into the ocean.
The reusable rockets were designed to make space flight less expensive in the long run. Each Falcon Heavy launch is expected cost around $90 million, while similar flights from government organizations like NASA could cost upwards of $1 billion.
Most importantly though, the Falcon Heavy successfully delivered its payload into orbit. Strapped to the tip of the Falcon Heavy was a first-generation Tesla Roadster (painted in red, or course), complete with “Starman” strapped in at the wheel (Starman being a dummy wearing the SpaceX spacesuit). On the Roadster’s primary infotainment screen were the words “Don’t Panic!”, a reference to Douglas Adam’s classic novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
The goal is to get the Roadster and its Starman passenger into an orbit around the sun that’ll take it by Mars, with the intention being to eventually launch a manned mission to the Red Planet. This successful test launch is the first big step towards that goal. But before it slingshots through the solar system, the Roadster will need to pass through the radiation-filled Van Allen belts, after which there will be a final burn to send Starman towards our planetary neighbor.
Since the launch, social media has been filled with breathtaking imagery, including several shots taken live from the space-traveling drop-top. Make sure to check out the live feed of Starman on YouTube.
Read our full review on the 2008 Tesla Roadster.