Starman and the Space Roadster, Or: Musk to Mars!

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When I was supposed to be sleeping the other day I woke up with a stomach ache (long story), and went downstairs for some soda crackers and 7 Up. (They're called soda crackers, so you have to drink soda with them. That's the law.) Naturally I flipped on the TV, only to discover we were thirty second from launching a car into space.


By "we" I mean Elon Musk, the rather eccentric rich guy head of SpaceX, who I now love more than ever in a not creepy sort of way.


So I got to see it live, and it was so much fun I could almost forget the part about how I spent the rest of that afternoon in the bathroom, doing a little launching of my own. (Long story. Never mind, I'll write about it later.)


Musk was testing the Falcon Heavy rocket, the biggest space vehicle since the shuttle. He intends to use it to send people to interesting places like the Moon, Mars, and Uranus, which I understand is infested with asteroids. Since this was a test--Musk actually said pre-launch that the chance of failure was high--he decided not to put any important cargo on board. But he needed something to test its payload capacity, some weight ... and, looking around, he spotted the vast warehouse that contained his collection of over ten thousand cars.


I'm making that part up. All I can say is that if I had several billion dollars, I'd be launching stuff into space, and I'd also have a collection of antique fire trucks in a vast warehouse. Clearly he and I are virtual twins.


Anyway, he did happen to have a Tesla roadster sitting around, and also a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit. I'm trying hard not to judge, here. Besides, I'd have a spacesuit, too.


So he set the spaceman in the Tesla, a detail I didn't know about when I turned on the TV and found a giant spaceship on the pad. After launch the two booster rockets, in a display worthy of an Olympic event, landed simultaneously, ready to be reused. The main booster ... not so much, but two out of three ain't bad. Then the spaceship went into orbit around the Earth, and its roof retracted, and ... wow.


The last official Instagram from "Starman".


When Emily came in I got the footage online and played the whole thing over, still grinning ear to ear. It was just so cool. Elon Musk, in addition to understanding that the future of mankind lies in space, also has a great sense of showmanship and humor. When I grow up I want to be just like him, especially the rich part.


Musk sent the Tesla into deep space, having said there was a slim chance it might actually hit Mars, although apparently it wasn't aimed directly at the Red Planet. Instead the rocket overshot its mark, and is now on a long loop that will take it into the Asteroid Belt. I wouldn't be surprised if Musk did that on purpose, just to show off the capabilities of his rocket. I mean, the thing can haul 64 tons, so what's a sports car and an astronaut? Talk about an off-road race.


I applaud Elon Musk, and not just because I want him to send me seed money to launch my writing career. Space is still hard and dangerous, but it's also full of possibilities in resources, knowledge, innovation, and just plain being neat. One of the problems with the world today is that so many of us no longer have a sense of wonder, or understand the value of exploration for the sake of discovery. We need to get that back. And with our politicians busy infighting and backstabbing, it may be innovators like Musk who will take us into the next phase of the human adventure.


Or at least send me some cash.


opher goodwin Added Feb 12, 2018 - 5:34am
I'm volunteering to drive his next car. It looks pretty cool. When it was originally launched as a convertible I bet they didn't realise that it would convert into a spacecraft!
Mark Hunter Added Feb 12, 2018 - 6:01am
No, something tells me the designers didn't take deep space into consideration, even if they did watch Heavy Metal. I was also going to volunteer to drive the next car myself, but I haven't driven a stick in awhile (if it is one), and I'm not sure if I could manage it in one of those spacesuits.
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 12, 2018 - 12:41pm
I wonder when mankind saw an era this impoverished and yet polarized by such opulence. 
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 12, 2018 - 12:44pm
Actually never mind, forget I asked.
Dino Manalis Added Feb 12, 2018 - 12:54pm
Space is all about discovery, we don't have money to waste, so it's helpful if billionares lead expeditions into outer space!
Dave Volek Added Feb 12, 2018 - 12:57pm
And with our politicians busy infighting and backstabbing, . . . . . .
Many societal resources are wasted through these efforts. And then there are various government projects and initiatives that are band-aid solutions, not that effective, and take 30 years to unravel the bad legislation.
We could have--and should have--more Eldon Musks. The TDG will unlock more of humanity's potential.
I would like to be building learning simulations for high school students. Check out my Food Chain simulation.  Rather than just memorize a few facts and terminology, students will actually have to problem solve with Food Chain Science to achieve a certain goal.
Tamara Wilhite Added Feb 12, 2018 - 4:04pm
My son asked why he launched a car into space. I said, "To make sure he could send groceries to the astronauts he wants to send to Mars later."
"But why a car?"
"He has a car company, he has cars, and the really cool photos may sell a couple million of his cars, so why not the car?"
"I think he missed."
"Yeah, and that's why they did a practice launch with a car, before the astronauts risk not getting their groceries."
"Is the car setting a speed record?"
"Turns out, it only counts if you're running it on the ground. But it is setting some sort of record."
John Minehan Added Feb 12, 2018 - 4:56pm
My not really understanding how this works is a direct result of not having taken differential equations.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 12, 2018 - 6:14pm
Mark, i could not agree more! Other things like solar roofing and siding, figuring out the battery storage issue and so many areas of opportunity where we need to paying closer attention to. 
And he launched a rocket into space and landed it on a platform in the ocean! 
Mark Hunter Added Feb 12, 2018 - 11:38pm
Did you ask something, Tom? I forgot.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 12, 2018 - 11:43pm
Dino, better that they spend money on that than on a sixth house in Maui, a second private jet, or a new yacht! And they can just give me the fifth house.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 12, 2018 - 11:52pm
Governments are experts in Band-aide solutions, Dave--just enough to get them through the next election cycle.
That's a lot of work you did on that food chain simulation! It's exactly the kind of thing I'd have found fascinating when I was in school.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 13, 2018 - 12:00am
Tamara, there's nothing that makes me more hopeful for humanity's future than an inquisitive kid. And I do hope that increases sales for the Tesla, although not so much that other manufacturers start shooting stuff into space just for the advertising.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 13, 2018 - 12:02am
John, when I was a kid I wanted to be a scientist, preferably one that ends up in space: My heroes were Spock from Star Trek and the Apollo astronauts. Then I took Algebra. After that I barely survived chemistry. That's when I discovered there's a difference between admiring scientists and being one.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 13, 2018 - 12:04am
Stephen, people don't think much about batteries these days, but someday someone will invent a super-efficient one that will be a game changer for everybody. Little things can make a big difference.
Spartacus Added Feb 13, 2018 - 12:43am
Nice article Mark.  
A little-reported fact is that the sports car was Mr Musk's own Tesla Roadster.  His own car!  It had a logo on the dash, set there by Musk long ago that stated, "DON'T PANIC".  You can see this in the video feed from space.
Of course, there has been plenty of reasons for Musk to panic in the past decade . . . having invested his life savings in Tesla and SpaceX, he was down to his last cool million in 2008.
wsucram15 Added Feb 13, 2018 - 1:03am
Mark :
Have you written to him? You should, you just never know. Sometimes that infectious "wonder" just needs a spark. Use your imagination...try to remember he invented paypal, SolarCity, electric cars that are fast, computers calling landlines (patented), electric jets, the railway from LA to SF and pushed all boundaries.   
Think on it..then send your letter. Maybe he will want you along for his triumphs.   He really is an inspiration.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 13, 2018 - 3:15am
I had heard that, William! And although my wife and I laughed out loud when we saw the "Don't panic!" sign, I have a feeling Musk took it to heart. Staying cool is one of the ingredients for success. Or so I've also heard.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 13, 2018 - 3:17am
Hm, maybe I just will send him a letter! At the very least, maybe he'll send me a used Tesla.  :-)  After all, I do have a little writing experience.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 13, 2018 - 7:10am
the battery one would be a game-changer because the main drawback of solar power is you cannot store the power being generated in the heat of the day, to feed the grid at night. The latest i read was that solar power is used to pump water up a tall cylinder all day long. At night the water is released generating hydro-electric power. 
You can understand why the petro-chemical people are creating all the false narratives they can, until all the fossil fuels get milked out of the ground. 
opher goodwin Added Feb 13, 2018 - 7:31am
Stephen - they are working on batteries. We'll soon be able to do it. They have some prototypes. Batteries are going to be the next major breakthrough.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 14, 2018 - 1:03am
Absolutely, battery power is a big deal, and a real breakthrough will effect all of us.
Joe Williams Added Feb 14, 2018 - 8:53pm
Rumor has it  nasa and the .gov people turned down his offer of a pree payload, guess they figured it would blow up,  so yeah he fooled them
Mark Hunter Added Feb 15, 2018 - 12:06am
They should know never to bet against Musk. Maybe someone should start a new sitcom, with the NASA administrator living next door. It could be titled "That Darned Elon!"
Anti-Limey Added Feb 15, 2018 - 10:52pm
As someone who is involved (tangentially) in things that fly, and/or go into space, and/or vaporize and splatter structures, terrain, and people at a cost of approx. $100k a head, I applaud the achievement. But, on the other hand, I had a dream recently where I was burned out of my bed by the impact of what seemed to be two exploding boobs, but in fact were wheels from that interplanetary roadster.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 15, 2018 - 11:01pm
Michael, maybe you were just ... tired.
Anti-Limey Added Feb 16, 2018 - 12:14am
Mark, after dealing with NASA, JPL, JSC, DOD, and others, each with approx. 18 layers of management each...wouldn't you be slightly frazzled? LOL
Mark Hunter Added Feb 16, 2018 - 3:49pm
Yeah, but I’ve never dreamed of exploding boobs!
Anti-Limey Added Feb 17, 2018 - 1:09am
I readily admit that I'm pretty twisted!