Will Musk’s Rocket Launch Ignite a New Space Race?

SpaceX, Falcon Heavy, launch pad
Launch of the first flight of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket. Photo credit: Launch of the first flight of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket.

Millions of captivated earthlings witnessed an aerospace milestone Tuesday afternoon when the world’s most powerful rocket was catapulted into space from the Kennedy Space Center.

It was launched from Pad 39A, the same one NASA used to send Apollo 11’s historic 1969 mission to the moon.

The rocket — dubbed the Falcon Heavy — is built by SpaceX, a company founded by business magnate Elon Musk. Its launch marks the first time a private enterprise has sent a vehicle this powerful into space. With 27 engines, it can carry 140,000 pounds of cargo into Earth’s lower orbit, more than twice the capacity of any other rocket.

The mission’s primary purpose was to determine whether Falcon Heavy can transport cargo into space. The payload is a car manufactured by Musk’s other company, Tesla. At the wheel is a space suit-adorned mannequin called “Starman.”

“It’s kind of silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important,” Musk said at a news conference.

Starman is expected to circle the sun for millions of years. After surviving a six-hour journey through the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belt, the Roadster has already shot past the orbit of Mars and into the asteroid belt.

Falcon Heavy’s highly anticipated takeoff was near-flawless. Its two side boosters dropped off mid-flight and successfully fell onto SpaceX’s concrete landing pads. The only launch misstep was that the center core plunged into the ocean instead of descending on a drone ship in the Atlantic. More significantly, the test payload got a greater boost than expected, causing it to overshoot its target: an orbit around Mars.

Still, Musk said Falcon Heavy’s performance gave him confidence that SpaceX’s next rocket, the even-larger and more powerful Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), will be ready to explore space in the mid 2020s. The BFR will bring Musk — who envisions human beings as an interplanetary species — one step closer to his dream of sending people to Mars.

Musk isn’t the only billionaire entrepreneur investing in what he has called a “new space race.” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos built the rocket company Blue Origin with hopes of lifting people and satellites into orbit. And the Florida-based Moon Express, created by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, seeks to mine the moon for water and natural resources.

In the videos below, Al Jazeera captures Falcon Heavy’s blast off, and Musk explains how the rocket could revolutionize space travel.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Tesla (SpaceX / Wikimedia).

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5 responses to “Will Musk’s Rocket Launch Ignite a New Space Race?”

  1. miclic says:

    im no rocket scientist but the way i can tell a good rocket engine is from the burn; compare a ULA delta 4 heavy launch vs proton M heavy vs falcon heavy; and further, falcon heavy uses 27! engines. thats 24 more chances for failure than delta IV heavy which uses just 3 RS68 engines.

    under real load elon’s falcon will bust out more times than he produces tesla 3s per week.

    lol yeah i saw that at 2:30! oh youre silly thats just contrails, engine exhaust water vapor condensation that for some reason stays around then widens out over a large area! haha! its just clouds(that for some reason have large concentrtions of beryllium and aluminum) and youre just crazy.

  2. Yonnik says:

    ps. Talking about the 2nd vid w/annoying chick and false audience sound track.

  3. Yonnik says:

    Did you see all those chem-trails starting around 2:30? WTF?

  4. miclic says:

    Lets see – become an “interplanetary” species or just fix radiation from nuclear waste on earth? hmm?

  5. miclic says:

    i’m sorry i hate to be a party pooper but i cannot stand elon musk; he is a mysogenist, a racist (see his response to racism at tesla) and he is gerneally a pos who is using government subsidies and spectacle to dupe “investors” and fad, class aspirational buyers/consumers.

    This last stunt of putting a car, totaly useless junk in orbit is beyond arrogance. I guess it kicks off the era where wecan expect to see chevron put up a youtube channel t ocover a floating banner in space blinking chevron’s messages 24/7.

    some desperate empty people will always defend charlatans like musk as “innovators” and glorify him as paragons of virtue and science, and that is simply dumb humans being dumb. See Trump; see human history.

    I’ll admit one thing: the trick of having the spent rockets return to earth and stick landings is pretty impressive (but its 2018 not 1965 so i mean come on lets curb our enthusiasm just so ever slightly; theyve been trying to do this since the 50s)

    On the other hand, the falcon heavy will be competing with Russian, and united launch alliance (mil-spec lockheed legacy former nasa) delta, atlas and upcoming vulcan heavy lifters.

    the return trick is the only thing musk has; the russkies and ULA dont have that trick yet; but it’s not a particularity hard trick at this point in 2018 going on to 2020.

    will falcon heavy kick off a space race? really who cares; the crowds are back? yawn.

    elon cares about profit; he isnt launching satellites to measure the level of poverty as function of methane release from land fills; or what have you.

    I dont care about going to mars or becoming a interplanetary species like elon musk and the virgin atlantic guy, dick branson, and all dumb rich people want to do; they seem to want to desperately live forever and to desperately get off earth; for me personally i like earth; and 1 terminal life is priceless and enough.

    I wish elon would come up with a solution – aka spend his money – for real problems like plastic in oceans; or for crying out loud how about pushing for solar as hard as he is pushing for everything elese he pushes for: he owns solar city for crying out loud; the earth gets more energy in one hour from the sun than blah blah blah and we’re still not even close to using it.

    I’d rather elon spend time building a dyson sphere and move us up to a type 1 civilization than go to mars or put space junk in orbit.

    but hey, thats just me…