Ellon Musk (Space X):
With the successful launch of Falcon Heavy in February, Space X celebrates another milestone in a space race now driven by the private sector. Linking this technical prowess with a marketing stunt, Elon Musk launched a Tesla Roadster into space driven by a dummy listening to David Bowie's Space Oddity in an infinite loop.
A load of junk
But before anyone shouts about sending yet more junk into our already cluttered atmosphere, there is method in the billionaire space and electric vehicle entrepreneur’s madness. Musk defended sending his cherry-red Tesla Roadster, “on a billion-year elliptic Mars orbit”: “Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks” – in other words, necessary junk, is part of the testing process. Musk “went to town”, placing a dummy in a space suit at the wheel! Musk’s company, SpaceX, has a good record on space junk: it has pioneered the recyclability of space vehicles and booster rockets, returning them to earth for reuse. As well as reducing space junk, he is cutting the cost of space flight, extending the potential market as well as bringing his own dream of sending humans to Mars ever closer.
“From its inception the Falcon Heavy was designed to carry humans into space, which the company says, “restores the possibility of flying missions, with crew, to the Moon or Mars”.”
Despite Musk’s own concern that the test rocket might explode on the pad, SpaceX successfully launched Musk’s car on the new Falcon Heavy rocket on 6 February. Launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, the flight opens a new era in space flight with the world’s most powerful operational rocket. At lift off the Falcon Heavy’s thrust equalled approximately eighteen Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jet” aircraft. That power gives it the capacity to lift a payload equivalent to a Boeing 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, baggage and fuel. Not since the Saturn V moon rocket delivered its payload has a missile with such formidable capacity been launched. From its inception the Falcon Heavy was designed to carry humans into space, which the company says, “restores the possibility of flying missions, with crew, to the Moon or Mars”.
When boring is good
Elon Musk joked that sending ballast into space in a new rocket was “extremely boring” so he decided to send something unusual – his car. However, boring is a sign of success in the rocket business. On 31 January Luxembourg's Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, was happily bored as he watched his country's GovSat-1 satellite launched from Cape Canaveral on a tried and tested Falcon-9 rocket. GovSat-1 is a joint venture between the government of Luxembourg and specialist satellite operator, Grand Duchy-based, SES. GovSat-1 is dedicated to secure communications for military, maritime and humanitarian operations. While that may sound boring, Luxembourg’s deputy prime minister, Etienne Schneider, who was also at the GovSat-1 launch, recently announced exciting plans for his country to be at the forefront of mining asteroids in space, a venture that may even take the headlines away Elon Musk’s renown showmanship.