Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Cape Canaveral, FL, United States (4E) – The most powerful launch vehicle in the world — Falcon Heavy from SpaceX — successfully launched for the first time on Feb. 6 at 20:45 UTC from historic launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida from where the Apollo missions blasted-off over four decades ago.
The gargantuan rocket generated a thunderous launch force and ear-splitting roar not experienced since the days of the mighty Saturn V, NASA’s three-stage, human-rated expendable rocket used between 1967 and 1973 to support the Apollo program that landed 12 American astronauts on the Moon. Saturn V was launched 13 times from the Kennedy Space Center with no loss of crew or payload.
The first payload of Falcon Heavy Flight 1 is Elon Musk’s personal, cherry red-colored Tesla Roadster, the first sports car from Tesla, Inc that was released in 2008. “Piloted” by a mannequin astronaut named “Starman,” the red Roadster is on its way to a trans-Mars injection heliocentric orbit.
The car will go into an elliptical orbit around the Sun that reaches beyond the orbit of Mars, out as far as the asteroid belt. The sports car, however, will neither fly past Mars nor enter an orbit around the Red Planet.
It’s equipped with cameras and broadcast a live video feed for about 12 hours after launch. Tesla Roadster is the first mass-produced consumer vehicle to enter space.
The Roadster also carries a plaque with the names of 6,000 SpaceX employees, and also brings along with it a data storage device containing Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction trilogy, “Foundation.”
Falcon Heavy’s first commercial flight, or Flight 2, will take place in June. The rocket’s main payload will be USAF STP-2, a military satellite whose mission will support the U.S. Air Force EELV certification process for the Falcon Heavy.
Secondary payloads will include LightSail; the Prox-1 nanosatellite; GPIM; the Deep Space Atomic Clock; six COSMIC-2 satellites and the ISAT satellite.
Powered by 27 engines in three first-stage boosters strapped together, Falcon Heavy is a reusable super heavy-lift launch vehicle designed and manufactured by SpaceX. It consists of a strengthened Falcon 9 rocket core with two additional Falcon 9 first stages as strap-on boosters.
This increases the maximum payload to low Earth orbit (LEO) to 63,800 kg (140,700 lb), and nearly 40,000 pounds to Mars. Falcon Heavy was designed from the outset to carry humans into space and was initially intended to enable crewed missions to the Moon or Mars.
After Falcon Heavy’s successful maiden launch, however, Musk said the rocket probably won’t fly humans, this task being left to SpaceX’s next-generation rocket, the “BFR,” or “Big Falcon Rocket.”
SpaceX capped the launch by successfully landing the two boosters on land. The first-stage, or the center core, crash into the sea. At SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California employees cheered wildly as Falcon Heavy soared out of the atmosphere.
“I’m still trying to absorb everything that happened because it seemed surreal to me,” said Musk. “I had an image of a giant explosion on the pad with a wheel bouncing down the road and the Tesla logo landing somewhere. But fortunately that’s not what happened. The mission seemed to have gone as well as possible.”
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