SpaceX launched the world’s most powerful operational rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday. The success of giant rocket’s first flight, and landing its two side boosters on the ground, the Hawthorne company set the stage for faster and cheaper launches of satellites — particularly lucrative national security satellites and other cargo.
The test payload for the demonstration mission was SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk’s midnight cherry Tesla Roadster. The car was shown by remote camera separating from the rocket and heading out toward Mars, a dummy “Starman” behind the wheel, wearing a SpaceX-designed spacesuit that will eventually be worn by astronauts riding in the company’s Dragon 2 capsule. The Tesla’s glovebox contains a copy of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” A sign saying “Don’t Panic!” in all capital letters was seen on the dashboard console (a famous line from the book).
After liftoff, SpaceX attempted to land all three of Falcon Heavy’s boosters back on Earth — two on land and one on a floating platform at sea. Musk had described the attempt as “synchronized aerial ballet.” About eight minutes after liftoff, the two side boosters set down simultaneously on land.
The launch occurred at 12:45 p.m. PST from Launch Complex 39A, the same launch pad where the Saturn V rocket last lifted off to take astronauts to the moon 45 years ago. The launch was originally set for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, but it was delayed several times Tuesday to wait out high upper-atmosphere winds.
About 4 minutes after launch, the rocket’s fairing — the clamshell-like covering that protects payloads at the top of the rocket — deployed successfully.