Who do you do if you’re a tech billionaire intent on colonizing Mars? You take advantage of every opportunity and send a Tesla Roadster in the first payload to the Red Planet. The idea sounds fantastical, but it is exactly what Elon Musk — the founder of SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla — is doing in January 2018.
Musk announced the plan in a series of tweets Friday night. To the disdain of journalists, he waited to confirm the news until the weekend had passed. As Science Alert points out, there are several reasons to believe Musk will follow through with his grand ambition.
In 2010, the business mogul launched a wheel of cheese into orbit during the maiden voyage of Dragon. The spaceship was built by SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company. And, earlier this March, Musk declared that he would launch the “[s]illiest thing we can imagine” during the first flight of Falcon Heavy. By sending a cherry red Roadster, he is keeping his promise.
Without a doubt, the Falcon Heavy could carry a Tesla Roadster. In fact, it could carry nearly 14 of them, as it has a max payload of 37,000 pounds. Because of this, it will be carrying Musk’s beloved vehicle.
“Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity. Destination is Mars orbit,” Musk tweeted on Friday, referring to David Bowie’s song. “Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.”
Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity. Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 2, 2017
Later that evening, he offered further clarification in question-and-answer tweets. Wrote a user named J.C. “Just to reiterate, the payload for the first Falcon Heavy rocket will be a Tesla electric car, playing Space Oddity, heading for Mars.” Elon Musk responded, “Yes.” In response to another Twitter user, Musk confirmed that the Roadster would be a “Red car for a red planet.”
Apparently, SpaceX employees found out about the launch on Friday, as well. Joy Dunn, an engineer with SpaceX, tweeted on Friday: “this is going to be so awesome.” She later added,“oh this is legit and of course there will be cameras!”
Even though Musk confirmed to The Verge that “it’s so real” in an email, the media outlet edited its story on Saturday, stating that “Musk told us he ‘totally made it up.’” Though there is still confusion about its validity, it seems clear the claim is legitimate.
Reportedly, Musk told Eric Berger of Ars Technica that the mission was “100% real“ after The Verge’s story was updated. Later, Berger tweeted that two SpaceX officials also confirmed Musk’s claim. “The Roadster to Mars payload is real,” the second SpaceX official reportedly told Berger.
Of course, there is a big detail that some have missed, and that is that the Tesla Roadster is going to Mars’ orbit — not the planet itself. According to Phil Plait, an astronomer and writer who interviewed Musk for his blog, Mars is going near the Red Planet.
“No, it’s not going to Mars. It’s going near Mars,” Plait wrote. He specified that the rocket would be pulled into a Hohmann transfer orbit: an elliptical path that goes out to the orbit of Mars, then back to Earth. It’s a near-endless loop, hence the “billion years or so” detail from Musk. The founder of SpaceX reportedly told Plait,
“Just bear in mind that there is a good chance this monster rocket blows up, so I wouldn’t put anything of irreplaceable sentimental value on it.”
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