SpaceX Heavy Test Flight

Here’s the video of Tuesday’s SpaceX launch, which I was unable to watch live as I was being interviewed (more on that later).  The Falcon Heavy launch was successful in nearly every way (one of the three boosters, supposed to land on a platform at sea, crashed). The synchronized landing of the other two boosters, shown below, is a marvel of human engineering. And, of course, the coolest part was putting Elon Musk’s red Tesla, complete with a test dummy, into orbit. That’s shown in the third video, and I wonder how long it’s going to orbit. Will it disintegrate or get hit by something? As CNN reported:

On board the rocket that’s now headed deeper into space is Musk’s personal Tesla (TSLA) roadster. At the wheel is a dummy dressed in a spacesuit. Musk said in December the car would play David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on repeat. Cameras on board the car show it cruising by Earth, which appears as a big blue orb in the background. Musk plans to send the car into orbit around the sun.

He announced last year he planned to put his car on the inaugural Falcon Heavy flight. When asked on Twitter why he wanted to throw away a $100,000 vehicle, he replied, “I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future.”

Here’s a 43-minute video of the whole event, from launch to landing (if you want a shorter version, go here):

The booster landing—amazing! Listen for the sonic booms.

And a live view of the Tesla with the dummy “Starman”. Note the “Don’t panic” sign from “Hitchhiker’s Guide”:

83 Comments

  1. Hempenstein
    Posted February 8, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I strongly suspect the powerplant was removed from that roadster before loading it onboard.

    • Paul S
      Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if it was. The point of the car was a stable heavy payload.

    • Posted February 8, 2018 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      Tesla is due to replace that model soon so it was approaching obsolescence. Elon Musk can’t be seen driving around in such a car. Of course, he could have sold it or kept it as a museum piece.

  2. Simon Hayward
    Posted February 8, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I continue to be amused by the Hitchhikers Guide credit on the car’s touchscreen

    • Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      There’s a copy of the book in the glove box.

      • loren russell
        Posted February 8, 2018 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        Would have been better to have a cassette-tape player with the original BBC Radio series laoded.

        One of best days in my life was when a friend gave me a pirated copy of the entire series. Worked much better in dialogue than in print, IMHO.

        • Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

          That reminds me, as cool as it is to have Bowie playing on an endless loop, what is the point in a vacuum?

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted February 8, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

            That crossed my mind too. Immediately after the “Cool!” reaction to the “Don’t Panic” in big friendly letters on the dash…

            If some alien race intercepts that Tesla and tries to analyse how it was supposed to work (in deep space) it will drive them nuts!

            cr
            (in Mangaia now)

        • Simon Hayward
          Posted February 8, 2018 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          The first time I heard it was around 1979 with pirated tapes of the BBC series and pharmacologic enhancement, which was, of course, not inhaled 🙂

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 8, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Well, this would certainly be the fastest Tesla ever. Sending more and more satellites into space seems to be the current job. The hope of going back to the moon or mars is also what he thinks about.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 8, 2018 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Theres supposed to be a towel in the car too, but I didn’t see it in any pictures.

    • Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      There’s a Matchbox car in it too (it’s supposed to be visible in some shots, but I haven’t seen it) and some electronic boards were stamped with “Made on Earth by Humans”.

      I bet there are sorts of conspiracy theorists out there coming up with new things that are in the car. Like maybe Starman isn’t a dummy.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        The Matchbox car would be referring to ….

        • Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

          Musk said it was a gag suggested by a friend. Beyond that, I haven’t a clue.

      • darrelle
        Posted February 8, 2018 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        I’m not positive but I think the matchbox car, which supposedly has a Starman figure sitting in it, is mounted on the center of the dashboard close to the windscreen. If you look at a front view of the car when it is well lit the object looks like it might be red with a distinct white something sticking up from it.

  5. Posted February 8, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how long it’s going to orbit. Will it disintegrate or get hit by something?

    It’s gone into Solar orbit (as opposed to Earth orbit) and could easily be there for hundreds of millions or billions of years.

    (Presuming some future “archeologists” don’t go and get it.)

    • RGT
      Posted February 8, 2018 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      It won’t last long

      http://www.newsweek.com/elon-musk-tesla-spacex-falcon-heavy-disintegrate-800610

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 8, 2018 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I was wondering how long the dashboard & everything else would last in the radiation.

      • Paul S
        Posted February 8, 2018 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        The linked articles said the carbon bonds would break down but not necessarily disintegrate. I understand the part about the carbon bonds, but I would think the metal parts should last at least as long as voyager.

        • Posted February 8, 2018 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          Yeah any exposed carbon-carbon bonds are vulnerable, but those parts that are shielded will be…well…shielded. They won’t be subject to the radiation until the shielding degrades.

          The worry about collisions with objects is real enough, though if it were all that likely there is no way humans would ever be sent up there. IOW – while even collisions with small objects are dangerous in space, space is BIG. Hugely BIGLY big. There is a LOT of room out there.

          My guess, barring a freak collision, the car will remain a car for millennia.

  6. busterggi
    Posted February 8, 2018 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Got to disagree, the boosters landing was way cooler than the Tesla. It aint’ the first car in space and a vertical rocket landing out of a ’50’s scifi movie is a first.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      I agree. When I first saw this it was the final touchdown and it looked unreal. Seeing the video above, with the boosters falling out of the sky, was breathtaking.

    • Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      “Ain’t the first car in space”. hmmmmm… Do you mean the lunar rovers?

      • Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        It’s the fourth electric car, so it wasn’t even the first in that category.

        Booster landing was way more impressive than the car.

  7. Jake Sevins
    Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Why did he launch his car into orbit? Why not a satellite that might serve some useful purpose? I mean, this launch probably cost $100 million and pushed out a lot of pollutants… why not make some use of it?!

    • Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      It was a test flight. You don’t put gabillion dollar satellites on a test flight.

      • Jake Sevins
        Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        I’m way out of my depth here, but if the test had a 50-66% chance of success (Musk said this), then isn’t there something that would be worth risking?

        For example, a cheap-o satellite from a University research department? There _must_ be worthwhile experiments people want to do in space but cannot afford the launch vehicle. The roadster seems like such a wasted opportunity. 😦

        • Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think it’s wasted, actually. No one would be talking about another satellite or cheap University experiment, but everyone is talking about the photos of the roadster with Starman sitting at the wheel as the entire earth spins away in the background. Those shots alone were worth the cost of the launch (IMO). Not just for SpaceX but to capture the attention and imagination of people around the world. So very cool.

          • Jake Sevins
            Posted February 8, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

            Ok, I’ll agree that the roadster was good PR for SpaceX, certainly. And maybe beyond PR, it might get some attention that has positive effects (reminds people that we’re all on the same planet, inspires kids to study science, etc). I guess I’m being too utilitarian in my comments above… 🙂

            • Filippo
              Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think you’re being too utilitarian. But apparently we live in an age where science itself and for its own sake is not sufficient to get the attention of the juvenile/adolescent human primate. One must appeal to their non-science mass pop culture predispositions. (Would that the dummy pilot could have had a blow-up doll sitting next to him.)

              I gather(hope)that mission control staff – needing to be able to hear and communicate with each other – were not near the mass of humans whoopin’ and hollerin,’ justifiable enthusiasm notwithstanding. (When In Doubt, Shout.) At first I thought that Apple or Facebook was holding a charismatic religious service nearby.

              “This is not your ‘steely-eyed missileman’ father’s mission control.”

            • BJ
              Posted February 8, 2018 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think there’s such a thing as too utilitarian; I just think your analysis of the utility was incomplete. It’s always good to analyze things from that perspective, though.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 8, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

          Typically if you’re the one putting your stuff in space, you don’t want it up there on a test flight. Companies that launch satellites into orbit typically give you a guarantee of some sort that your stuff will make it. It may be cheap in the grand scheme of things, but it represents a lot of investment in money and resources for the owners.

          • Posted February 8, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

            Right. It also looks bad for SpaceX to lose some customer’s payload regardless of the up-front warnings. They are in a PR battle up against governments and long-time military-industrial corporations. I suspect Musk was falsely pessimistic when it came to the chances of success for the Falcon Heavy launch. If he stated his true risk estimate, he would have to answer the question as to why there was no useful payload on it.

            • BJ
              Posted February 8, 2018 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

              “If he stated his true risk estimate, he would have to answer the question as to why there was no useful payload on it.”

              Assuming it was a false estimate (which we don’t know one way or the other), the more important reason for it is how difficult it would be to explain failure if he said it had a 95% chance of success.

        • loren russell
          Posted February 8, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          I would have called the White House and asked for a volunteer driver. Emphasize a long ride in a very cool car.

        • Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

          So we’ve gone from the NASA/Sagan ‘We come in peace’ CD, to a rich guy launching a car so he can say ‘Look at this swell car that you can buy.’

          • Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            Why ascribe impure motives to this achievement? Not to put too fine a shine on it, but NASA’s mission was to beat the Russians.

            • Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

              Is self-promotion an ‘impure motive’ in America? Probably not, no matter what I think.

              • Posted February 8, 2018 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

                “Is self-promotion an ‘impure motive’ in America?”

                Are nation-state pissing matches good motives?

                The answer to both questions is..it depends.

                I applaud SpaceX efforts – this is a game changer for both public and private space programs- and I think Musk’s personal touch to this mission is bold, cool, engaging and very much in line with the “hold on to your hats, this is going to be amazing” approach of traditional public space agencies.

            • Filippo
              Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

              It was a mission imposed by NASA’s political masters of mankind.

          • BJ
            Posted February 8, 2018 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

            If you hate the car part of it so much, don’t focus on it. The important part — the part all but maybe .01% of the funds went to — is launching a giant missile with reusable boosters into an orbit around the sun, with enormous implications for science, space travel, and humanity itself.

            • Posted February 8, 2018 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

              I applaud your enthusiasm. I’m happy for science. Would be more optimistic if I didn’t think we’re heading to the commercialization of space only as something only for the rich.

              • Posted February 8, 2018 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

                One “only was more than enough. The other I blame on my cat, who chose to post it as it was before editing.

              • BJ
                Posted February 9, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                One of the risks of having a cat is bad grammar.

                I’m not concerned about the commercialization of space flight, Before this, going to space was for nobody but astronauts — and even more select group than the rich. More importantly, this test was for flights to Mars, whic has nothing to do with rich people going to space. In fact, nearly everything SpaceX has been doing has been about scientific space exploration and possibilities of colonizing other planets. Judging by this launch, they may be doing a far better job than NASA at this point, and we never have to worry about government squabbling over the funding of future missions/hindering the program through cuts.

    • Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Musk is secretly a Bond villain. They like the ostentatious.

  8. Posted February 8, 2018 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    The two boosters that came back to Cape Canaveral landed right on target, but the one meant to land on the barge missed and crashed. That’s got to make folks living around the Titusville area a little nervous, don’t you think?

  9. JohnJay
    Posted February 8, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Elon Musk shared the last picture they received before the 2nd stage battery died. The earth is really receding into the distance.

    Last pic of Starman in Roadster enroute to Mars orbit and then the Asteroid Belt

    A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

    • Posted February 8, 2018 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      That one is my favorite.

      • Jake Sevins
        Posted February 8, 2018 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        How are they getting pics from that vantage point?! Is there a selfie stick on that thing? 🙂

        • Posted February 8, 2018 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          Yes, you can see them in this image. https://goo.gl/images/bMjsHn

        • JohnJay
          Posted February 8, 2018 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

          Yep. There is one boom on the front, one in the back seat, and one on each side. If you scan through the taped “live starman” video, it alternates between the different cameras.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      I’m reminded of the early 80’s “Heavy Metal” movie.

      • BJ
        Posted February 8, 2018 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

        Just needs boobs and blood 🙂

  10. Neil Wolfe
    Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    We are getting closer to realizing Kurt Vonnegut’s vision.

  11. oldtoyboy
    Posted February 8, 2018 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    People may like this connection from the Heavy Metal film of 1980 (i think).

  12. rickflick
    Posted February 8, 2018 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    I was just amazed by the dual sonic booms. Made me jump out of my seat.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 9, 2018 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      That was fantastic!

  13. Posted February 8, 2018 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    I wager that we won’t see a Tesla in a SuperBowl ad. That would be too pedestrian for Elon Musk. But a Tesla in Space – what a stroke of genius in product placement!

  14. Posted February 8, 2018 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely love how human intelligence and achievement evokes these passionate responses. Maybe there is hope for us.

  15. Jonathan Dore
    Posted February 9, 2018 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    I have to say the stunt of sending a car into space trivialized what would otherwise have been a major breakthrough — the first time in history an entirely private venture has put a serious heavy-launch vehicle into space. To use that opportunity to simply deposit a large and shiny piece of space junk in low earth orbit is incredibly irresponsible — does he not know that debris in LEO is a major and growing problem threatening the entire satellite infrastructure? Apparently not, since he also think his car is going to be up there for millions of years. Without boosters, in a few years it will simply fall out of the sky, and with something that size fragments could certainly survive to reach the ground. I wouldn’t want to be underneath.

    • barael
      Posted February 9, 2018 at 4:36 am | Permalink

      [quote]To use that opportunity to simply deposit a large and shiny piece of space junk in low earth orbit is incredibly irresponsible[/quote]

      Well then, it’s great that that’s _exactly_ what Musk didn’t do, wouldn’t you agree?

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted February 9, 2018 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        Care to elaborate?

        • rickflick
          Posted February 9, 2018 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          It’s headed for solar orbit.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted February 9, 2018 at 8:10 am | Permalink

            I was just reading in Marcu Du Sautoy’s The Great Unknown (GB title What We Cannot Know) how the planet Mercury is the most likely planet to destabilize the solar system, because of its small size and mass. The gas giants are very stable. Chaos has something to do with it. It’ll take a few billion years, if at all.

            I hope the nerds at Space X ran some simulations with their little vehicle.

          • Jonathan Dore
            Posted February 9, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

            Thanks Rick, a relief that at least there’s no debris danger. But the trivialization is, if anything, even worse: launch to solar orbit is even harder and more expensive, so the corresponding waste of resources, compared to what they could have done with the opportunity, is even worse.

            • Paul S
              Posted February 9, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

              Please explain why is it worse?

              • Jonathan Dore
                Posted February 9, 2018 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

                Why worse? Because launch to solar orbit requires much more energy than to LEO, and is thus hugely more expensive. Squandering a rare opportunity like that is rather like a rich man responding to a street beggar’s request for money by getting out a wad of fifties and making the beggar watch while he sets fire to them, just because he can. It doesn’t matter if you think the beggar deserved the money or not. The squandering of resources alone should be enough to make anyone angry.

              • Posted February 9, 2018 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

                +

              • Paul S
                Posted February 9, 2018 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                JD,
                Got it, you’re mad because he can do things you can’t and you don’t get to decide how other people spend their time and resources.

            • darrelle
              Posted February 9, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

              You don’t really know what you are talking about, but if you want to feel righteously indignant about it I’ll now get the heck out of your way without further involvement.

    • BJ
      Posted February 9, 2018 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      It’s not LEO, it’s an orbit around the sun, and will stay there for thousands of years, interfering with and posing a danger to nothing.

      This wasn’t about some PR stunt, it was about testing an enormous leap in space exploration and travel technology. The car was just a cool icing on the cake. And the reason something more valuable wasn’t launched with the FH is that this was a test flight.

      Moreover, it trivialized nothing. Here is a response by mikeyc to comment #7 above:

      “I don’t think it’s wasted, actually. No one would be talking about another satellite or cheap University experiment, but everyone is talking about the photos of the roadster with Starman sitting at the wheel as the entire earth spins away in the background. Those shots alone were worth the cost of the launch (IMO). Not just for SpaceX but to capture the attention and imagination of people around the world. So very cool.”

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted February 9, 2018 at 10:11 am | Permalink

        Thanks BJ, I read mikeyc’s comment the first time it was made, and disagreed with it then. I’m never going to get excited about a car in any context, so no, I don’t think it was “very cool” in space any more than it would have been on a road. The demonstration of launch capability and the powered landing of the boosters were the important things about the flight, and I would have been talking about it, and far more impressed by it, if Musk had put out a call for scientific payloads to be flown instead (with a higher risk of loss being the price for a free flight). Believe me, there would have been no shortage of takers and many worthwhile projects. Launch to solar orbit usually costs millions, and to piss away the opportunity sending a mannequin in a spacesuit in a car is a gratuitous insult to all the scientists who could have used the opportunity for the advancement of knowledge instead.

        I’m amazed that Musk is excited by the idea of aliens finding his car. Has he thought this through? The only conclusion they could come to is that the species who deliberately used resources so pointlessly didn’t deserve to travel in space.

        Just yesterday we saw a similar example of trivialization: a zero-g aircraft of the kind used to train astronauts was instead kitted out with disco lighting and used to fly a bunch of DJs around for an hour.

        I’m officially angry about this.

        • Posted February 9, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          Damn! For so long I’ve be uofficially angry at so many things and now I find I could have been “officially angry?”

          Wasted time I’ll never get back!

          • Diane G.
            Posted February 10, 2018 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

            Well, it’s never too late to start!

        • Paul S
          Posted February 9, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

          I don’t understand your anger. Are you upset because you don’t get to participate or because you don’t get to decide what other people do?

        • darrelle
          Posted February 9, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

          Holy Shit. You GO!

        • BJ
          Posted February 10, 2018 at 8:58 am | Permalink

          “…I would have been talking about it, and far more impressed by it, if Musk had put out a call for scientific payloads to be flown instead.”

          Except this was a test flight. That’s not how a test flight of a $100 million rocket works. If he didn’t add the car, there would be nothing in it’s place. Literally nothing of value — even to you — was lost by putting the car there (and, as has been explained, it actually added value by increasing the interest of laypeople across the world by an enormous amount and making the entire endeavor more memorable for such people). So, in your analysis, the car should simply be disregarded, rather than put in the negative column.

          By the way, I don;’t care about cars. I don’t think it’s the car that’s “really cool.” It’s the fact that it’s there, and its presence is an enormous achievement for humanity.

  16. Simon
    Posted February 9, 2018 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    Now all that’s left to complete the event cycle is a churlish dig at Musk from the inimitable PZ Myers.

  17. BJ
    Posted February 9, 2018 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    It’s not LEO, it’s an orbit around the sun, and will stay there for thousands of years, interfering with and posing a danger to nothing.

    This wasn’t about some PR stunt, it was about testing an enormous leap in space exploration and travel technology. The car was just a cool icing on the cake. And the reason something more valuable wasn’t launched with the FH is that this was a test flight.

    Moreover, it trivialized nothing. Here is a response by mikeyc to comment #7 above:

    “I don’t think it’s wasted, actually. No one would be talking about another satellite or cheap University experiment, but everyone is talking about the photos of the roadster with Starman sitting at the wheel as the entire earth spins away in the background. Those shots alone were worth the cost of the launch (IMO). Not just for SpaceX but to capture the attention and imagination of people around the world. So very cool.”

    • BJ
      Posted February 9, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Sorry, meant as a response to Jonathan Dore above.

  18. Posted February 9, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    What are the regulations governing civilian space flight, anyway?

    • Paul S
      Posted February 9, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Interesting question. I don’t think there are regulations concerning space flight as no one owns space. I assume it’s the off and landing that are regulated.


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