The world’s most powerful new space rocket blasted into the heavens above Florida’s east coast on Tuesday afternoon on a trailblazing deep-space mission that Elon Musk, founder of the private aerospace company SpaceX, believes could spell “game over” for his commercial spaceflight rivals.
The Falcon Heavy, which will provide the United States a heavy-lift capability in space not seen since the Saturn V rockets of the Apollo era, made a flawless ascent through clear blue skies, with at least two of its three reusable boosters returning safely to earth.
The spectacular, flame-heavy launch was watched by an estimated half-million spectators who packed the beaches and other key vantage points around Florida’s space coast for the biggest fireworks show since the retirement of Nasa’s space shuttle fleet in 2011.
Falcon’s upper stage and test payload, the whimsical touch of Musk’s $100,000 cherry red Tesla Roadster sports car, and a dummy in its driver’s seat called Starman rocking to David Bowie’s Life on Mars, continued, zapping through the Van Allen Belt.
Pictures of the car heading into space with the Earth below gave the triumphant launch a surreal quality. From there, it will journey on through a six-month, 400m-kilometre trip to a solar orbit, for more than a billion years.