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Elon Musk sends Tesla Roadster into orbit, and changes space travel

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ICYMI, there’s a red Tesla Roadster flying through space, on a billion-year elliptic Mars orbit, with a dummy astronaut at the wheel, and David Bowie’s “Starman” playing on loop on the stereo.

Why? Well, that’s just the way Elon Musk rolls when he’s trying to:

a) convince the world that his SpaceX company will one day be able to safely ferry people and other precious cargo to and from outer space; and

b) relentlessly and unashamedly promote his range of Tesla electric cars, and his ability to get stuff done.

As Musk explained it himself on social media in December:

“Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring. Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel.”

Turns out that something was Musk’s own 2008 Tesla Roadster, and so now that is in space.

How it got there was on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful rocket that’s launched from the US since the 1970s, which blasted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Tuesday afternoon, US time, or Wednesday morning, AEDT time.

For Musk and the space nerds, the successful launch is considered to be a milestone achievement for SpaceX, because – as Business Insider explains it – “the 230-foot-tall Falcon Heavy is designed to be larger and cheaper than any rockets currently being launched by the company’s competitors thanks in part to its reusable boosters.”

For the rest of us, the take home message from all of this is probably that Musk and his team should not be underestimated.

If he can launch a luxury electric vehicle into orbit, then he can probably make a decent stab at disrupting both the automobile and electricity industries as we know them – even in Australia. As one snappy Tweeter put it, “flat-earthers must be pissed.”

Printed on the circuit board of a car in deep space

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

  

Pocket
  • Chris Fraser

    Big Mal likes Teslas. I suppose he didn’t offer to drive …

    • A tragically missed opportunity, especially since he could have taken passengers such as Barnaby, Josh and Craig along for the ride!

      • Chris Fraser

        And Matt’s ten gallon hat in the spacious boot.

    • MaxG

      I would have supported to have Mal in the driver seat… to never to return! 😀

  • john

    How has the air pockets been removed from the tyres?
    Even if solid rubber that too would hold air pockets.
    My thoughts are that the car is a replica not the actual car.
    If it is the car then extensive removal of any part that holds air which will expand in the vacuum of space would present a problem.
    I guess he must feel the publicity is worth the effort personally am not exactly impressed.

    • neroden

      The car was obviously extensively modified before launch. They’re also clearly testing their prototype spacesuit, FWIW.

      There are only a few pressurized parts on a car anyway, so it’s not as hard as it looks. But they had to bolt it to the nosecone of the spaceship, which is a modification, and glue the spacesuit dummy to it, and so forth.

      • Chris Fraser

        So glad that Americans are embracing their seat belts, on Terra and in Space.

    • I’m sure the tyres will easily withstand an extra ~14psi/200kPa in them when in space. A balloon would explode, but not conventional car tyres.
      It sure was a spectacular live broadcast, especially the 2 boosters landing simultaneously!

      • Joe

        Yep, saw the TV coverage and for a minute I thought it was the Elon driving in outer space.

    • GlennM

      Glad I am not one of your children…being so hard to impress is surely a recipe for their long term depression. John show us your rocket…you know the impressive one…

    • Steve159

      I thought of that, then remembered they had a vacuum chamber within which to test the Roadster.

      No problems as far as I’m concerned, it’s the real deal. I mean, as if Musk would risk someone leaking “it’s a fake we put into orbit.” No way. Would be colossally stupid, unbecoming of Musk

      • Politis_X

        That was the real deal. Car spent hours of testing in vacuum before launch, so no gimmicks there , or else we’d be by now flooded all over with a massive wave of musk haters cheering out loud, as it’s more than understood that musk is to be blamed for even breathing nowadays, by such opportunists: Well, there just ain’t any of that.

    • Michael Murray

      It was an enormous amount of publicity for space, science and engineering that was basically free. He could have sent a lump of concrete.

  • David Mitchell

    Lets take a straw pool on how long till the first movie that “recovers” some ancient space junk that turn out to be the Roadstar (boom boom) and empty space suit covered in space crud. Less than 18 months IMO, they will be rewriting scripts already!

    • GlennM

      Yep….and i just heard that Elon left his wallet in the glove box so he is screwed…

      • Ren Stimpy

        The wallet weighed more than the car.

  • Steve Woots

    the move ‘Heavy Metal’ did it first (if only an animation) and the tune there was Devo’s Cola mine – so that’s what I hear despite Elon’s preference.

  • DugS

    If there is anything that actually deserves being called ‘awesome’ then this is it. Gob smackingly, thunderously magnificent and with a little twist of delicious absurdity. That wonderful ballet of precision carried out at fantastic speeds and distances is a demonstration of human brilliance at its finest. I love that Elon can be at once the sombre rocket scientist and talk about a ‘mass simulator’ and then reveal his quirky fun side by deciding to use his car in place of a ‘boring’ lump of concrete. He is such an inspirational character.

  • Ken Fabian

    Whilst I applaud the achievement – the improvement to rocketry, not the stuntery – I think it’s mostly something that will aid near term, near space activities, the sort that are done by people on Earth for people on Earth, making profits for investors on Earth. Colonising space will take technological advancements far beyond improving and enlarging existing space launch technology. I think it will need an enduring history of commercially viable exploitation of actual space based mineral resources – something that has yet to be achieved even at micro scale.

    It seems to me that batteries applied at large scale for RE and for transport was approaching commercial viability when Musk got involved. I don’t think that is the case for some of Musk’s – SF nerddom’s – other grand ambitions.