While it initially appeared to be an Ambien-induced Twitter troll from the famous CEO, Elon Musk has announced that the inaugural launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, now aiming for January 2018, will carry his personal cherry red Tesla Roadster as cargo.
Musk’s classic embellishments and hyperbole triggered some understandable skepticism, claiming that the Tesla would head to Mars while playing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” and would remain in deep space for “a billion years” if it survived the launch.
Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity. Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 2, 2017
While the Mars and “Space Oddity” aspects have yet to be verified, SpaceX’s head of new product introduction, Joy Dunn, subtweeted Musk’s original announcement, assuaging any doubts about the claim’s legitimacy. Much remains unknown, but the information from Dunn and Musk points to a humorous heavy payload being placed into a high Earth orbit, if not on a trajectory to Mars, and will feature plenty of camera coverage in space.
— Joy Dunn (@RocketJoy) December 2, 2017
In all fairness, sending a Roadster to Mars would be par for the course for Musk and SpaceX, who in a frankly underappreciated turn of events sent a massive wheel of cheese into orbit with the first launch of a Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX intends to attempt recovery of all three first stages of the first Falcon Heavy, with the two side boosters landing at Cape Canaveral’s LZ-1, and the center core landing aboard the Of Course I Still Love You droneship. The attempted recovery of all three cores would appear to preclude the possibility of a Mars mission, as it is understood that Falcon Heavy’s payload to Mars in its fully reusable configuration would be ~4000kg. Sending a 1500kg Roadster, especially one stripped of its battery, is still within the realm of possibility, but the burden would be on Falcon 9’s second stage to survive the several month long coast period between Earth and Mars.
In the meantime, we can speculate with all due haste as to what the first space-faring Tesla Roadster (confirmed to be Roadster 1.0) will carry on its exceptional journey.
One can imagine that the footage garnered along the way would be all the advertising material Tesla could ever possibly need for the indefinite future, particularly for the company’s next generation Roadster.
Many giddy Twitter and Reddit users almost immediately let loose a stream of potential ridiculous slogans: “the first production car to orbit Mars,” “new Tesla Roadster upgrade has a range of 54 million kilometers,” “Fastest production car,” etcetera. Comic relief aside, the sheer shock value of orbital sunrise or even Mars from the cockpit of a Tesla Roadster certainly can’t be denied outright, even if the absurdity is rather high.
Time will tell if SpaceX has chosen to risk a more productive use of Falcon Heavy’s inaugural launch, perhaps as soon as next month. While it was later removed at the request of SpaceX, a photo taken Thursday by California-based space journalist Sandy Mazza showed Falcon Heavy’s second stage and all three first stage boosters preparing for launch inside the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at LC-39A. The public will almost undoubtedly get its first view of an integrated Falcon Heavy within the next few weeks, certainly before Christmas if things go as planned.