The most powerful rocket to leave Earth since the Apollo missions launched from Florida yesterday.
The Falcon Heavy jumbo rocket, developed by flamboyant SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk, had a sole ‘passenger’ onboard – a mannequin named ‘Starman’ – who rode to space inside a Tesla roadster.
Incredible real-time footage has emerged from inside the car which is now travelling at 24,500mph (39,400km/h) as David Bowie’s Life on Mars plays in the background.
Starman was meant to be on a 250-million-mile (400 million km) journey to orbit the red planet, but the dummy is heading further out into the solar system towards the asteroid belt as one of Falcon Heavy’s boosters burned for too long.
Musk said the ‘silly and fun’ mission was a success because it will ‘get people excited around the world’, although the rocket’s central booster failed to return to Earth as planned.
Falcon Heavy’s flight could open up the prospect of far cheaper space launches, making travel to Mars more achievable.
Cosmic radiation will now gradually tear the car to pieces, with the Roadster’s seat leather and plastics expected to fall apart in the next year – provided the vehicle avoids collisions with space junk and micrometeorites.
Viewers of yesterday’s launch livestream were left with video images beamed from space of Musk’s red Roadster circling the blue planet after its protective covering had dropped away and exposed the car.
In the middle of the vehicle, on the centre screen, the words ‘Don’t Panic’ were printed – a reference to the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, about an accidental space traveller, Arthur Dent.
‘It’s kind of silly and fun, but I think that silly and fun things are important,’ said Musk, who is CEO of both SpaceX and electric car firm Tesla.
‘The imagery of it is something that’s going to get people excited around the world.’
Despite the rocket’s success, it ultimately missed the target set by Musk before the big day to perform a close flyby of Mars as it reached the red planet’s orbital path around the sun.
The billionaire tweeted about the error during the flight, writing: ‘Third burn successful. Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt.’
Two of the Falcon Heavy’s reusable boosters – both recycled from previous launches – returned minutes after lift-off for on-the-mark touchdowns at Cape Canaveral.
Sonic booms rumbled across the region with the synchronised vertical landings.
However, the craft’s third and final booster missed its target – a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean – by about 328 feet (100 metres).
In a press conference after the historic launch, Musk said early reports show the rocket’s central core ‘hit the water at 300 miles per hour (480kph) and sprayed the drone ship with shrapnel’.
Rumours had already surfaced that the central core had missed its target after SpaceX cut its live video feed of the autonomous drone ship, named Of Course I Still Love You, minutes before the booster was due to land.
Musk said the landing failed after just one of core’s three engines re-lit for the landing burn, causing it to crash into the surface of the ocean.
Musk told reporters there were no plans to re-use the booster, even if it had been recovered.
SpaceX technicians were overheard saying ‘we lost the centre core’ in a clip of live video taken during launch at the firm’s Mission Control centre near Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Despite the central booster malfunction, the firm did manage to complete the remarkable feat of landing Falcon Heavy’s other two reusable boosters simultaneously.
Stunning video from yesterday’s launch shows the twin boosters returning to Cape Canaveral in a synchronised landing.
The massive rocket launched at 3:45 p.m. ET, carrying Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla roadster on board.
Just over three minutes into the launch, the side boosters detached from the rocket and launch operators confirmed the rocket was on the right trajectory.
After shedding from the core section of the rocket, the two reusable side boosters landed seamlessly back on Earth about eight minutes into the launch.
The rocket appeared to have successfully jettisoned its third and final core, but SpaceX’s live stream cut out before it landed, with the firm later confirming it had lost the booster.
Yesterday’s successful launch marked the maiden flight of what’s now the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
‘You’ve heard the call out – vehicle is supersonic’ the announcer said, as the rocket soared through the sky to massive cheers from the crowd below.
‘The Falcons have landed’ the announcers said, as onlookers cheered and whooped wildly in the background.
In a statement, SpaceX said: ‘It was an outstanding test flight of the Falcon Heavy.
‘Everything that you could want in a test flight – we got here,’ the team said.
A view inside the Roadster showed one last look at the dummy, dubbed Starman, behind the wheel on its journey to Mars.
‘Upper stage restart nominal, apogee raised to 7000km,’ Musk tweeted shortly after the launch.
‘Will spend 5 hours getting zapped in Van Allen belts & then attempt final burn for Mars.’
The SpaceX CEO also shared an update on Starman’s journey beyond Earth.
‘View from SpaceX Launch Control. Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth,’ Musk quipped yesterday.
After five years of setbacks, the massive rocket capable of achieving a thrust equivalent to more than 18 Boeing 747 jetliners finally took its maiden flight.
According to Musk, it will take roughly six months for the car to complete the more than 200 million mile journey to reach the red planet.
And, it’s expected to remain in orbit for about a billion years.
Ahead of yesteerday’s launch, Musk released a stunning animation revealing how the plan would work.
The billionaire SpaceX CEO said the firm’s Falcon Heavy spacecraft would carry his Roadster on a billion-year journey through space ‘if it doesn’t explode into tiny pieces’.
A video posted to Musk’s Instagram account showed how the huge rocket would lift off from Florida in its first ever test flight.
Yesterday Musk assured spectators cameras on the vehicle would provide ‘epic views’ as it travels to Mars.
Most new rockets carry concrete or steel blocks on test flights to simulate the weight of a real payload, but Musk, who is also CEO of Tesla, has previously said that this method is ‘extremely boring’.
He said SpaceX decided to send Musk’s car as it was ‘something unusual, something that made us feel.’
In yesterday’s Instagram post, Musk wrote: ‘Falcon Heavy launches to Mars orbit tomorrow.
‘If it doesn’t explode into tiny pieces, it will carry Starman in Roadster over 400 million km from Earth at 11 km/sec on a billion year journey through deep space’, he wrote yesterday.
SpaceX spent weeks preparing for the first test launch of its Falcon Heavy, which aims to one day take payloads to the moon or Mars.
It has been hailed by industry experts as a game-changer because of its potential to propel the California-based company to the very forefront of the modern day space race.
The launch followed months of delays and build-up to the historic flight, with Musk frequently posting updates across his social media profiles.
On January 5, the billionaire wrote on Instagram: ‘Falcon Heavy now vertical on the former Apollo 11 moon rocket launchpad.
‘At 2,500 tons of thrust, equal to 18 Boeing 747 aircraft at full throttle, it will be the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two. Excitement on launch day guaranteed, one way or another.
‘Hold-down test fire next week. Launch end of the month.’
The 46-year-old South African, who co-founded PayPal with venture capitalist Peter Thiel, predicts Falcon Heavy’s payload will stay in deep space for a while.
A photo of its unusual cargo – Musk’s cherry red 2008 Tesla Roadster – was first released last month.
The images showed an original Roadster perched on a large cone inside Falcon Heavy on what appeared to be a secure mount to keep it stationary.
The mission marks SpaceX’s most ambitious project to date.
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, with the aim of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonisation of Mars.
In a Washington, D.C., speech last July the Tesla founder said Falcon Heavy is one of the most difficult and technically complex projects SpaceX has ever undertaken.
‘There’s a lot of risk associated with Falcon Heavy,’ he said during the 2017 International Space Station Research and Development Conference.
‘Real good chance that the vehicle doesn’t make it to orbit. I want to make sure to set expectations accordingly.’
Musk has spent the proceeding months building up hype for the historic launch with a series of social media posts.
Last month he posted an image to Twitter of people stoof next to a landed Falcon Heavy rocket to give an idea of the vehicle’s scale.
He tweeted: ‘Falcon Heavy launching from same @NASA pad as the Saturn V Apollo 11 moon rocket.
‘It was 50% higher thrust with five F-1 engines at 7.5M lb-F.
‘I love that rocket so much.’
He also confirmed the rocket will have a ‘max thrust at lift-off is 5.1 million pounds or 2300 metric tons,’ adding the first mission will run at 92 per cent capacity.
‘Falcon Heavy to launch next month from Apollo 11 pad at the Cape.
‘Will have double thrust of next largest rocket. Guaranteed to be exciting, one way or another,’ Musk originally posted.