SpaceX Falcon Heavy test flight sends Tesla Roadster into space

By Greg Pallone and Audrea Huff, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018, 5:50 PM EST

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SpaceX has blasted its most powerful operational rocket yet into space, sending a Tesla Roadster on a journey to Mars in a test launch from Kennedy Space Center.

Tens of thousands jammed the Space Coast on Tuesday to witness the liftoff of the company's Falcon Heavy, which CEO Elon Musk had said would be a "downer" if it blew up.

The skies were clear and blue, with a few wisps of thin clouds as the rocket sat on historic Launch Pad 39A. But high winds pushed the original launch window time of 1:30 p.m. ET back five times. Finally, at 3:45 p.m. — 15 minutes before the close of the day's launch window — the Falcon Heavy soared into the vibrant sky to huge applause and cheers from those in attendance, which included legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Spectators and space fans arrived early Tuesday morning to select their spot to watch for this special takeoff.

They were treated to quite a show, albeit a few hours late. The launch imagery and sound was reminiscent of the space shuttle launches that excited so many. And rightly so -- the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket since the Saturn V, which was the rocket used for the Apollo moon missions.

After the rocket soared into the sky, the two side boosters separated, turned and landed back at Cape Caanveral Air Force Station to several sonic booms in succession for miles around.

The middle booster, meanwhile, continued to travel, delivering the third stage -— with the Roadster -— into space.

Behind the wheel of the car is "Starman," a dummy named after the David Bowie song.

At a news briefing after the launch, Musk said the middle booster, aiming for a landing on the drone ship in the Atlantic, actually hit the ocean about 100 meters away at about 300 mph, which was with enough force to "take out two thrusters (on the drone ship) and shower the ship with shrapnel."

The test flight marks the most ambitious one for SpaceX to date and is one that the company's CEO was particularly thrilled with since he announced its plans seven years ago.

"It's about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past and I can't think of anything more exciting than going up there and being among the stars," Musk said.

SpaceX hopes to target another Falcon Heavy launch in about three months, with perhaps two to three Falcon Heavy launches this year.

The Falcon Heavy was originally designed to carry humans into space and restore the possibility of flying mission with crew to the moon or even Mars. But Musk said Monday that the future of his company's manned missions lies with SpaceX's next-generation rocket, codenamed the "BFR."

With the BFR the future of manned missions, Musk said Falcon Heavy will "open up a new class of payload," perhaps giant satellites as far as Pluto.

He's also hoping the company's rockets will get other aerospace companies to step up.

"We want a new space race. They're exciting," Musk said.

Live updates

Live blog and updates: The test launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy