SpaceX just accomplished what seemed impossible. A test flight to send its Falcon Heavy rocket toward the heavens was successful — a milestone in space history with a private company taking the lead.
The mission isn't complete yet, but almost all the initial steps went off without a hitch. The two reusable boosters successfully dropped off shortly after launch and then landed back on dry land. The payload — Elon Musk's Telsa Roadster — will continue on its journey, an orbit around the sun that reaches as far as Mars and may last as long as a billion years.
Here is a live view, courtesy of SpaceX, of the Starman cruising in space:
During a post-launch briefing, Musk revealed that the center core ran out of propellant during its descent towards the drone ship and smacked into the ocean at over 300 MPH. According to Musk, the booster was less than 300 feet away from the drone ship when it splashed down.
"It was enough to take out two thrusters and shower the deck with shrapnel," Musk told reporters. "We have the video. It sounds like some pretty fun footage... if the cameras didn't get blown up as well."
While not an ideal end for the core booster, Musk added that SpaceX never had any plans to reuse any of the boosters from today's launch.
We'll be circling back with new updates on the launch as more information comes in. In the meantime, the story below — written pre-launch — offers more background on the importance of the rocket and the mission.
Should the weather cooperate and the engineering checklist pass muster, the Falcon Heavy will embark on its maiden flight sometime on Feb. 6 during a three-hour window that begins at 1:30 p.m. EST. The payload held within its nose cone, destined to cruise deep space for a billion years or so, will be nothing less than Elon Musk's original cherry Tesla Roadster. According to the SpaceX founder, the electric vehicle's premium stereo system will be blaring David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on ascent.
"Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks," he wrote in an Instagram post. "That seemed extremely boring. Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel."
Elon Musk's first-generation Tesla Roadster will serve as the dummy payload for the Falcon Heavy's maiden flight. (Photo: SpaceX/flickr)
While the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy is exciting for SpaceX and the commercial space industry as a whole, it's also history in the making. If it succeeds in escaping Earth's gravity, an initial feat even Elon Musk is reserving some skepticism over, it will earn the distinction of becoming the world's most powerful rocket.
"There’s a real good chance that vehicle does not make it to orbit. I want to make sure and set expectations accordingly," Musk said in July. "I encourage people to come down to the Cape to see the first Falcon Heavy mission. It’s guaranteed to be exciting."
Are you ready to experience the excitement of some good old-fashioned groundbreaking space flight? Here are all the ways you can enjoy the Falcon Heavy launch and proudly proclaim years from now that "I watched it happen live ..."
The easiest way to catch Falcon Heavy's dramatic launch will be through your PC or phone. SpaceX's live streams through YouTube have redefined the launch-viewing experience, with several high-definition cameras both on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center and on the Falcon itself. There are a couple of ways to tune in live, including on the company's official Facebook page and through the SpaceX YouTube channel. In either case, live streams are generally initiated about 15 minutes before launch and feature commentary from SpaceX engineers and mission control specialists. Because SpaceX launches are generally a company-wide event, you also get a front-row seat to the excitement of watching hundreds of employees cheer for something they've put years of their lives into.
Purchase a ticket at the Kennedy Space Center
If you want an opportunity to feel the rumble and hear the roar from the Falcon Heavy firsthand, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is opening its doors to interested spectators. While the closest viewing packages have already sold out, you can still grab one for $75 per person that puts you in the "Rocket Garden." While you won't actually see the rocket's initial launch for this viewpoint (7.5 miles from the launchpad), it will become visible in the sky shortly after liftoff. A live feed from SpaceX will be broadcast throughout the facility.
Admission also includes a two-day pass to the visitor's center.
Hit the beach!
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launching from Playalina Beach at the Canaveral National Seashore in October 2017. (Photo: Jill Bazeley/Flickr)
Can't score a seat at Kennedy Space Center? Then grab a beach chair and head for the coast. The Space Coast Office of Tourism has put together an extensive list of public viewing locations throughout the region, including the gorgeous Canaveral National Seashore, Alan Shephard Park and Playalinda Beach. And don't forget –– the fun doesn't end after launch. Once the payload containing the Tesla Roadster detaches from the three main boosters, SpaceX will attempt to land all three: two at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and one on the autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) — with the memorable name Of Course I Still Love You — in the Atlantic Ocean.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in early February and has been updated with more recent information.