Honey, I am going to take the Roadster out for a quick spin around the sun. I’ll be back in a few million years.
That’s nice dear. While you are out, could you pick up a gallon of milk?
In what has to be the greatest road trip of all time and space, Elon Musk, the visionary inventor, engineer, and billionaire investor loaded his very own red Tesla Roadster onto the large glove compartment of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket parked at Cape Canaveral and three-two-oned it out of the earth’s atmosphere into deep space.
Assuming all went well, the Tesla Roadster detached from the rocket and will one day be cruising around the sun in a far orbit at around 26,000 mph, well beyond the speed limit. Which means that in the future, when Elon Musk finally sends the first high paying tourists into space as he plans, his car will be waiting to pick them up.
The answer to the most obvious question is, “because he can”. When you are the founder and CEO of both a car company and an aerospace rocket manufacturer, there are not a lot of people in corporate meetings willing to take your keys and dissuade you from blasting your car into outer space.
The good news is that it frees up a spot in the company parking lot.
As romantic as a scenic stellar road trip into deep space for billions of years sounds, this particular mission was more about testing the engines under the hood. All twenty seven of them. The Tesla was shot out of the earth’s gravitational field by Musk’s SpaceX Heavy Falcon rocket, the rocket he someday hopes will transport people to moon spas or theme parks on Mars.
The Heavy Falcon has three times the thrust of the existing SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, an engineering feat accomplished by super gluing three recycled Falcon 9s together and lighting the fuses all at the same time. The greater thrust means that heavier payloads can be blasted into space―up to 140,000 lbs. Which means that in addition to his red Roadster, Elon Musk could also have sent a Chevy Suburban and a two-car garage tumbling around the sun too.
This new rocket opens up plenty of possibilities for commercial space travel. Where the Falcon 9 was limited to spewing out small things like communication satellites and toaster ovens into space, the Heavy Falcon can carry people and all of their luggage, and still have plenty of room in the overhead compartments for a Death Star.
And if for fun someone also wants to fling a caterpillar tractor into outer space too, well I’m just saying.
This cosmic road trip is not without risks, the least of which is getting a flat tire in space millions of miles from the nearest gas station. For example, the car could have blown up on lift off. Or it could have blown up in flight. Or it could have blown up as it left the earth’s atmosphere. Or it could have hit another car leaving the parking lot.
And who knows what driving conditions will be like in the Van Allen Belt.
For this reason the red, self-driving Tesla is being piloted by a a crash test dummy in a space suit. To simulate a real car ride, the dummy is programmed to repeat “how long til we get there” every ten seconds.
Launching a car into orbit around the sun is not cheap. A Tesla Founder’s Edition Roadster runs about $200,000. And a pre-owned Heavy Falcon at a President’s Day clearance sale with zero down and zero percent financing for 12 months, goes for around $90 million. Throw in comprehensive comet collision insurance and EZ Pass tolls for a billion years and we are talking some serious green. You won’t see me cruising my Honda CRV around the Milky Way anytime soon.
Despite the ambitious journey Elon Musk has mapped out for his car, the overall mission is a bit more subdued. It is a demonstration mission specifically designed to see if he can place a payload into orbit using the new Heavy Falcon rocket without blowing it up. If he is successful, he loses his Roadster. If he is not successful, he also loses his rocket.
It’s a good thing he is a billionaire.
Regardless of the outcome, the thought of a car toppling end over end deep into space with the Earth spinning topsy turvy in the rear view mirror is pretty awe inspiring. Much more awe inspiring than, say, witnessing a twenty story fireball on a launch pad in Florida.
And it sure beats sitting in traffic on the Turnpike.
Uber to the sun, anyone?