Why Tesla Decided to Launch a Roadster in Space
It was dinnertime on the West Coast when Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted something that made everyone scratch their heads with wonder.
“Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity,” Musk’s tweet said. “Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.”
Why would he want to launch his personal Tesla Roadster into outer space on the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket? Is it even possible?
As a reply to one of his followers, Musk tweeted, “I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future.” A few days after that, he said the car would have a copy of Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” safely tucked in the glove box, along with a sign that says, “Don’t panic.”
Prior Christmas, Musk shared a picture of the car with the caption below.
“A Red Car for the Red Planet”
“Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring. Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel. The payload will be an original Tesla Roadster, playing Space Oddity, on a billion year elliptic Mars orbit.”
Apparently, he was serious.
Considering this is Musk, it doesn’t come as a surprise anymore. Last March, Musk talked to a follower regarding the payload, saying, “Silliest thing we can imagine! Secret payload of 1st Dragon flight was a giant wheel of cheese. Inspired by a friend & Monty Python.”
Here’s the story on why Musk decided to launch his own roadster to space.
The delayed launch of the first Falcon Heavy rocket was at its final moment sometime during the summer of the previous year, and it was time to talk about the payload. Musk decided to launch heavy objects to simulate a real payload without losing an extremely expensive satellite if the test went downhill. The engineers and other concerned individuals brainstormed on what would be the best pick, and everyone were thinking of both practical and silly suggestions, wherein a car came. At first, the practical heads won over those with the goofy thoughts.
They thought Musk would give it a go right there and then, but he was a man of unpredictable nature. He opted to launch something that is more interesting and sent them away to think of a better idea. That’s when they went back to the car idea, which Musk loved. He then suggested to send his own 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport as the payload.
With the needed go signal, the car was sent into a SpaceX workshop to be prepared for the anticipated test. They tested it to see if it could survive the launch, meaning it will remain intact upon lift-off and while it was coasting across outer space.
They then found out that some parts had to be stripped away. The battery, drivetrain, and the glass had to be removed, after all it wasn’t needed in the test. With the battery out, there was no need to keep the drivetrain in, either, so that went, too. That way it removes the risk of having debris in outer space that would be dangerous. Other than that, SpaceX engineers were impressed with the durability of the car, and so it was a go.
After receiving permits from regulators, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the roadster was clear for launch. And it did make history last February 6.