“I’d like to die on Mars…”
by Amy Cheng
“…just not on impact,” is how Elon Musk might explain his motivation for founding his private space transportation company, SpaceX, recently launched into headlines with their test flight of the Falcon Heavy, “the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two.” This is far from SpaceX’s first foray into the newstreams of the public: since establishment, they have periodically set records for aerospace manufacturing.
Seventeen years ago, in 2001, Musk conceptualised the project Mars Oasis, which would establish a greenhouse on Mars in an attempt to increase NASA funding and build public interest. He traveled to Russia in search of cheap rockets, but returned empty handed; there were no affordable rockets for sale. He calculated that costs to procure raw materials for a rocket were only a tiny fraction of that of a completed rocket and decided to start his own company for building significantly more affordable rockets. A year later, in 2002, he contacted Tom Mueller, a rocket engineer, and SpaceX was officially started. Their stated goals are to improve the reliability and cost of access to space, which have led into the development of reusable launch systems and expanding the ability of spacecrafts to carry heavy loads. This all builds up to Musk’s plan to jumpstart interplanetary colonization on Mars.
Since the start of SpaceX, they have sent the Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Falcon Heavy on 50 flights, with only 2 failed trips. The most recent test flight of the Falcon Heavy on Tuesday, Feb. 6th at 3:05 PM ET from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida is remarkable from multiple perspectives—the rocket is fitted with “27 boosters, three engines,” and will attempt “three separation events, three landing attempts,” and, as its name might suggest, can carry a payload that is double the next operational rocket, the Delta IV Heavy.
It launched perfectly on schedule, amid exuberant roaring from the crowd of spectators. Additionally, both side boosters landed simultaneously and as expected by calculations on the ground pads. The drone-landed central core failed to land, however, because of early burnout of a chemical ignitor, which meant the engines could not light. The mission will continue though, on an experimental elliptical orbit around the sun which might come extremely close to the surface of Mars.
And because this is Elon Musk, the Falcon Heavy’s payload, as opposed to being standard blocks of concrete or steel (or a wheel of cheese), is his own “midnight-cherry Tesla Roadster” from Musk’s electric car company. Less than five minutes after launch, the car, with its mannequin driver and cameras could be seen drifting outside the atmosphere of Earth. (Pictures linked below)
Sources and Additional Reading
- Chang, Kenneth. “Watch the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket Launch Today.” The New York Times, 6 February 2018.
- Spacexcmsadmin. “Falcon Heavy Test Flight.” SpaceX. 29 Jan. 2016.
- SpaceX. “Falcon Heavy Demonstration Mission.” SpaceX. February 2018.
- “SpaceX.” Flickr, Yahoo! 8 February 2018.
- Terdiman, Daniel. “Elon Musk at SXSW: ‘I’d like to die on Mars, just not on impact.’” c|net. 9 March 2013.