Falcon Heavy. That was falcon amazing. Well, I survived the 21 hour drive to Florida and back, set up 3 remote still cameras around the launch pad, ran 5 video cameras and pulled off a potato quality livestream, all on my own… I’m exhausted and boy do I have some serious post-launch depression.
But we have SO MANY questions to answer about Falcon Heavy. We learned so much after the successful launch and there’s a ton to cover.
Instead of me trying to answer EVERYTHING in this article, I decided we’re going to focus on one big question first. WHY. Why the Falcon Heavy? Why does it matter? Why launch it now when it will soon be replaced soon by something bigger and better? And of course, the number one why, why did SpaceX launch a Tesla into space?
And before we get started, if you need to have a review all about Falcon Heavy, why it’s awesome and how it works, check out my video titled “Why it took 5 years for the Falcon Heavy to fly” That’ll be a good place to start.
So now, we need to talk about WHY. You might have your friends or family ask this question. My personal answer tends to be a little philosophical at times but I’ll also be explaining the actual nuts and bolts of why… so let’s start there.
Falcon Heavy takes SpaceX’s goal of making rockets reusable up another notch. Although the Falcon Heavy is three times more powerful than the Falcon 9, it only throws away the exact same amount of rocket, the upper stage.
But due to the larger nature of the Falcon Heavy, the percentage thrown away is much much less.
We talk about this often here on my show, but this is the key to making spaceflight cheaper. SpaceX has already made waves by being able to recover and reuse about 65% of their Falcon 9, but now the Falcon Heavy they’ll be able to reuse about 90% of the rocket!
And again, you probably hear this over and over, but this is a huge step in getting space travel to be more like air travel. Imagine a world where jetliners have to be thrown away after each use. That’s absurd right? Now imagine a world where 35% of the jetliner are thrown away, better, but still absurd. With Falcon Heavy, we’re now biting at the 90% reusable mark, which is helping to bring the cost down that much more.
Put another way, due to the extra performance of the Falcon Heavy, it could put a satellite into orbit and recover 90% of the rocket, where as that same satellite on a Falcon 9 would require the entire rocket to be thrown away.
Of course the real goal is truly making rockets 100% fully and rapidly reusable, and if all goes according to SpaceX’s plans, they hope their upcoming rocket, the BFR, can achieve this.
Falcon Heavy is just another step in the right direction for driving cost down and making rockets more reusable. It’s also a massively capable rocket, which can secure important department of defense contracts and deliver large payloads for customers.
So why bother with the Falcon Heavy when the fully reusable and even more powerful BFR is on its way? This is a valid question and apparently even SpaceX tried to cancel the Falcon Heavy program 3 times.
Falcon Heavy will probably end up being a placeholder to offer heavy lift capabilities for customers until SpaceX gets the BFR flying. BFR is slated to start flying in 3 or 4 years, so I think Falcon Heavy will fly for a good 5 years or so… but that’s just my guess.
So NEXT…why did SpaceX put a Tesla in space. Why on earth (or off earth) did they waste their money to show off? Why not do something of scientific significance.
Believe it or not, this one is actually pretty easy to answer. The first flight of Falcon Heavy was a demo mission. It was purely a test of the vehicle to see if it would work. Being that it was a demo mission with only a 50%-ish chance of success, it’s not a very good idea to put anything of any importance or value on top of the rocket.
Elon Musk didn’t even see it going nearly this well. You can tell he was genuinely surprised by its success, especially hearing him explain his expectations in the post launch press conference.
“You know, I had this image of a just a giant explosion on the pad with you a wheel bouncing down the road. Like a Tesla logo landing somewhere with a thud.”
With the inaugural flight of any rocket, companies tend to use a dummy payload or mass simulator. This is usually a hunk of steel, water, or concrete. Super exciting…
Occasionally, you might hear the word boilerplate used which is a more realistic simulator of a spacecraft, specifically spacecraft that are exposed during ascent.
Some examples are boilerplate units for Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Orion, and even SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule which first flew on the first Falcon 9 mission.
So I guess that really answers the question right there. Did you know that the first Falcon 9 mission just had a dummy Dragon capsule on top? No? Why’s that? Oh, that’s right, because it’s kind of BORING and you didn’t care, neither did I at the time!
So to me, the Tesla is the perfect middle ground. It’s not just a boring hunk of steel, it represents something and since you shouldn’t put anything of any real importance or value on top of a demo flight, this is was a perfect compromise and an even better PR move.
By doing something outlandish, audacious and downright absurd, it got YOUR attention. And not just YOUR attention, but SpaceX managed to capture the world’s attention! This is important.
For the first time in years, millions of people tuned in to watch a rocket launch. SpaceX had 2.3 million people watching the Falcon Heavy launch live on YouTube.
That’s the second most people tuning in to a single event live on YouTube ever, coming in after another space-ish related event, Felix Baumgartner’s high altitude skydive.
More important than grabbing your attention, it captured the world’s imagination. Us humans relate well to things that we interact with often. We gravitate towards the familiar. So when we look at a spacecraft, as cool and awe inspiring as it can be, it’s not as relatable as say a car. It’s too foreign. Too rare. Too hard to grasp.
So what happens in our minds when something we see every single day, a car, get hucked into space on top of the world’s most powerful rocket with live feeds of our beautiful planet in the background?
When the live feeds of Starman started coming in, I had to just stop and pause for a moment. There it was. A Tesla. In space. With a mannequin wearing SpaceX’s awesome space suit just hanging out in the driver’s seat, arm casually resting on the door and hand on the steering wheel.
So why? Why did a billionaire shoot his car into space? We have so many problems down here on Earth, why waste it on space? And here’s where we need to get a little philosophical.
Space is the one thing that unites us humans together. It’s the one border we all share. Once you get out to space you realize there are no boundaries, there is no division, and all of our petty politics and wars suddenly become hilariously irrelevant.
Space exploration is us uniting as one species exploring the next frontier together. It unites enemies like it did during the cold war with the Apollo/Soyuz mission, it sparks our imagination and quite literally opens up new worlds.
So yes. Maybe sending a car up to space is silly and seemingly frivolous. But in the grand scheme of things, it might be one of those moments we look back at in the history books.
This may not have been a Wright Brothers flying the first airplane moment. This may not have been a Chuck Yeagar breaking the speed of sound moment. This definitely wasn’t an Apollo 11 moment.
BUT. Perhaps for the first time in the 21st century, kids were huddled around a screen watching a spaceflight event.
For now, this is my generation’s version of huddling around a small black and white TV watching the Apollo 8 astronauts orbit the moon for the first time.
On December 24th, 1968, while orbiting the moon, Bill Anders took a photograph of the Earth rising over the lunar horizon. This famous photograph, called Earthrise, is quite possibly one of the most iconic images in all of human history.
And perhaps my favorite thing about this picture is that every human ever, dead or alive is in this photograph besides just three. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders the crew onboard Apollo 8.
And although a mannequin in the driver’s seat of a Tesla doesn’t have the same significance as humans orbiting the moon, I can’t help but think this image is quite possibly one of the most inspiring images of the 21st century.
Or maybe I just think that because I totalllllly called it
Please tell us you’re putting a Tesla model X or S into orbit as the dummy payload for Falcon Heavy Demo with cube to live stream from orbit https://t.co/JtyNWwfV7d
— Everyday Astronaut (@Erdayastronaut) February 27, 2017
I think it should be a bunch of Teslas that are like made to just be dummy payloads, that end up going into orbit, that orbit either the Earth or the Moon and we get all these live feeds of Teslas in space and you can just teslainspace.com Make it happen!
Ok, maybe not that teslas in space .com thing… but come on, I was close!
So what do you think? What were your thoughts about the very first launch of Falcon Heavy? Did you crap your pants when you saw the two boosters landing side by side? I totally didn’t… What were your thoughts on seeing a Tesla in space? Let me know that in the comments below.
Remember, I’ll be doing a lot more in depth videos about Falcon Heavy, and other videos about Rocket Lab, NASA and lots of other fun space videos, so be sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss a thing!
I owe an even bigger thanks to my Patreon supporters for helping make this trip down to Florida possible. I owe an extra super special thanks to those Patrons who were able to meet up and hang out in person! It was a ton of fun meeting you and I hope to do more meetups in the future. You guys are seriously awesome.
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Thanks everybody that does it for me. I’m Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut. Bringing space down to Earth for everyday people.