Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, just launched his own personal Tesla Roadster into space on the front of one of the largest rockets built in years. In the driver’s seat is Starman, a mannequin in a space suit also designed by SpaceX. While it is a bit dramatic, and the car is totally useless in space, it is the personal flair we have come to know from Musk as he continues to drive mankind into the stars.
But don’t let his flair for the ridiculous fool you, SpaceX is continuing to make headway into the space industry. The rocket launch was another step forward in the private company’s space flight progress, testing one of the most powerful rockets on earth against a heavy payload… that being the Tesla Roadster… AND to get those very large rockets to safely land back on Earth so they can be reused. This is something SpaceX has been working on for the better part of a decade with a dozen or so successful attempts. But this was by far the largest rocket they’ve attempted.
The test was a complete success. The rocket made it into space, giving us a nice flyby with a couple hours of video of Starman “driving” by Earth. The payload detached and is now on its way toward an orbit past Mars. Then the rockets landed safely on Earth.
So what’s next? Well, the ultimate goal, says Musk, is to send humans to live on Mars. To do that, Musk says that SpaceX is building a spacecraft to carry humans that will need a rocket with more than 11 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, that’s more than double what the Falcon Heavy produced on Tuesday. It would also take a much bigger rocket that he’s calling the BFR, or the Big Falcon Rocket. The rocket’s current design would make it more than 100 feet taller than the Falcon Heavy and have 5 times the payload… and would easily be the largest rocket ever made. The time table for that is 3 or 4 years, says Musk, but he is notoriously late on his timetables. For example, he announced his Falcon Heavy design in 2011 and said they would launch in a couple years. It took almost 7.
In the near term, NASA is partnering with SpaceX and Boeing to build a new spacecraft that can carry humans into space, with Mars not necessarily the goal. The United States hasn’t been able to send humans to space since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, relying on other nations to get our astronauts to the International Space Station. After several delays, the partnership is hoping to have the spacecraft ready for launch by 2020.