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Falcon Heavy launches humanity's fourth car into space, and other facts you didn't know

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Few things unite the world like spaceflight.

Faith, the Olympics, and spaceflight all unite the world. Even when we compete, even when we celebrate our diversity, these three things also unite us. Yesterday's launch of the Space X Falcon heavy rocket felt like just such a moment. 




By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
Catholic Online (
2/7/2018 (6 years ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Falcon Heavy, Tesla, Roadster, fun, facts

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - For all the bad news and negativity these days, there are still happy moments. One such moment came yesterday as Space X launched its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time. The launch was a major success and managed to put a car into orbit around the Sun. But some may be surprised to know, this wasn't the first launch of a car into space. 

The first car in space was launched in 1971 on the Apollo 15 mission. Two more would follow on Apollo 16 and 17. Unlike Tesla's Roadster, those three cars were actually driven on the lunar surface, giving the astronauts greater range to collect samples and conduct experiments. 

Although the Tesla Roadster won't be driven, it is probably safe to say it is one vehicle whose value has increased as it has added miles. Less than a day out, it is already the farthest traveled automobile in history. A new Tesla Roadster will set you back about $200,000, which is more than the price of a modest American home. As a now-historic space artifact, its value is priceless. 

It will orbit the Sun in an elliptical path just beyond the orbit of Mars. It is expected to remain out there for at least one billion years. However, if humanity is successful in colonizing space, chances are the car will be retrieved by future spacefarers and put into a space museum or some other collection. 

We should not expect its cherry red paint to survive. Radiation from the Sun will rapidly fade the paint, and dust in space will eventually coat the vehicle. Still, it will probably be the most valuable car in the universe for the next billion years or so. 

The Roadster also carries a few gems including a dummy wearing a Space X suit designed for humans. The dummy is named "Starman," as a tribute to David Bowie and his music. David Bowie's song "Starman" was released in 1972. Bowie's 1969 hit, "Space Oddity" is playing on an infinite loop in the spacesuit. This is odd because if the spacesuit isn't pressurized with air, there is no medium for the sound to travel -- meaning there is no way the dummy could hear the music, assuming the dummy could hear, which of course, it can't. Still, it's cool anyway. 

The dashboard of the Roadster has a smart display which is beaming the words, "DON'T PANIC!" The expression was emblazoned on the back of dust jackets for the late Douglas Adam's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." The humorous book is a sci-fi cult classic.

The Falcon Heavy is now the world's most powerful operating launch vehicle, almost as powerful as the Saturn V moon rockets. However, it will not hold that title for long. 

Falcon Heavy has 5 million pounds of thrust at takeoff. By comparison, the Delta IV Heavy has 2.1 million pounds of thrust. 

Historic launch vehicles compare thusly: Saturn V had 7.6 million pounds of thrust, and the Space Shuttle had 7.8 million pounds of thrust, but with less payload capacity. Upcoming vehicles include Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin "New Glenn" rocket, with 3.9 million pounds of thrust (coming in 2020), the Vulcan rocket from United Launch Alliance with 3.8 million pounds of thrust (coming in 2020), and the Space Launch Vehicle from NASA, with a whopping 11.9 million pounds of thrust. (coming in 2019).

The Space Launch Vehicle will become the most powerful launch vehicle when it flies in 2019. 

However, the Falcon Heavy is mostly reusable, making it the cheapest out of all of the above. New Glenn is also designed to be reusable and will serve as a competitor. 

Falcon Heavy is designed to be capable of sending people into space. Not only can the rocket put a car into orbit around the Sun, at the distance of Mars, but it can easily put people on a slingshot trip around the Moon, which could happen as early as late this year. 

Falcon Heavy's three rockets or "cores" each contain nine engines, for a total of 27 engines. All 27 engines must work in perfect unison. The cores are reusable and are all designed to land back on Earth. Yesterday, two of the three cores made their landings. The two cores used as boosters made a picture-perfect, simultaneous touchdown back at Cape Canaveral. That alone is a major accomplishment. 

The central core missed its landing by a matter of feet, exploding on impact with the ocean. This is a minor disappointment, but it is greatly overwhelmed by the incredible success of the mission. Generally, rockets are disposable, so saving two-out-of-three cores is still an amazing achievement. 

The live streaming view of the Tesla Roadster in orbit around Earth may also help dispel the flat Earth conspiracy theory. Anyone watching the event should have noticed the distinct globe of the Earth in the background. Note: globe, not disk. It is frankly surprising this is even a thing. 

Finally, has the American system of measurement been vindicated once again? There are countries that have been to the Moon and have put four cars into space, then there are countries that still use the metric system. Alas, Falcon Heavy was built and flown using the metric system, and its flight-data was displayed in metric units. 

Space X represents a transition from government pioneered and funded space flight to privately funded flight. NASA still has its place on the frontier, exploring and probing the deepest questions and secrets of the universe. But now it is time for the private sector to develop spaceflight for the public good. Laboratories in space, space tourism, and more will all change the world as we know it. Private spaceflights to the Moon and elsewhere will once again unite humanity as we all watch future astronauts take steps on the Moon and Mars. The nationality of the spacefarers will not matter. The first person on Mars could be a man or a woman, an American, or someone from China, or India, or Africa. The world will not care about nationality. We will care only that our planetary ambassador, arriving in peace, returns home safely, a living and heroic inspiration for us all. 

This is what we can do when we put our energies towards peaceful pursuits. There are no challenges that can stop us, when we work together in peace, under God. 

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