Seeing a car orbiting the earth is incredibly surreal.
Few believed Elon Musk when the eccentric billionaire announced his ambitious plan to launch a Tesla Roadster into space. But he wasn't joking - he's actually done it. A car has been launched into outer space and is orbiting the earth. Let's just process that for a moment. In a historic moment, Musk's SpaceX company successfully launched the Falcon Heavy, the world's most powerful rocket in 45 years since the shuttle system, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the CEO's personal cherry red Telsa Roadster with it.
Behind the wheel was a dummy named "Starman" wearing a prototype SpaceX's suit, who navigated the solar system to the tune of David Bowie's Space Oddity on repeat. The words 'Don't Panic!' taken from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy were also displayed on the car's infotainment screen. Also on board was a miniature Hot Wheels version of the Tesla sports car attached to the dashboard, complete with a mini version of Starman. As if the spectacular launch wasn't already impressive enough, two of the three boosters successfully re-landed on earth in a feat that's never been achieved in space history. According to Bloomberg, the remaining booster crash landed into the ocean.
"The center core didn't land on the drone ship," said Musk, adding that reports suggest it "hit the water at 300 miles per hour and sprayed the drone ship with shrapnel." The live stream of the test flight was the second most watched video in YouTube's history, reaching more than 2.3 million concurrent views.
Musk wasn't completely confident about the Falcon Heavy, however, billing it as a risky test flight with only a 50-50 chance of succeeding. "I had this image of just a giant explosion on the pad, a wheel bouncing down the road. But fortunately that's not what happened," he told reporters after the event. With its three boosters and 27 Merlin engines, the Falcon Heavy is designed to deliver a maximum payload to low-Earth orbit of 64 tons. That's nearly double the performance of the world's next most powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, and its five million pounds of thrust are the most since the Saturn V used for Apollo moon missions in the 1960s and 1970s.
"A private company just outperformed every government on earth," said Greg Autry, a professor at the University of Southern California and a former NASA White House liaison. "This is bigger than anything Russia or China is doing. No one else is even close." As for the Tesla Roadster, the batteries are only expected to last for around 12 hours, but cameras fitted to the EV captured some incredible footage of the car floating through space. Kudos to Musk, because this is a genuinely awe-inspiring feat that could significantly cut the costs of space travel in the future. We still can't get over the incredibly surreal sight of a car orbiting the earth.