Elon Musk told us he was sending a car to space, then said he totally made it up

Photo: SpaceX

Always willing to up the stakes of an already difficult situation, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said the first flight of his company’s Falcon Heavy rocket will be used to send a Tesla Roadster into space. Musk first tweeted out the idea on Friday evening, and the payload was confirmed on Saturday.

But confirmation followed a bizarre exchange between The Verge and Musk. After Musk tweeted the plan, we asked him to confirm that it was real. Musk replied to us first by email, confirming that it was real. Then, after The Verge published a story about the plan, Musk sent us a response in a direct message on Twitter saying he “totally made it up.” We now know that response was false; a person familiar with the matter told The Verge Saturday evening that the payload is in fact real.

The first Falcon Heavy’s “payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity,” Musk wrote on Twitter, referencing the famous David Bowie song. “Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.”

Musk has spoken openly about the non-zero chance that the Falcon Heavy will explode during its first flight, and because of that he once said he wanted stick the “silliest thing we can imagine” on top of the rocket. Now we know what he meant. It’s unclear at the time of publish whether SpaceX has received any necessary approvals for this plan.

Falcon Heavy is the followup to SpaceX’s Falcon 9. It’s a more powerful rocket that the company hopes to use for missions to the Moon and Mars. It was originally supposed to take flight back in 2013 or 2014, but its maiden flight is now pegged for January 2018, according to Musk. (The company has been testing parts of the Falcon Heavy architecture over the last year, and has been busy readying the same launchpad that the Apollo 11 mission blasted off from for this flight.)

Falcon Heavy is, in overly simple terms, three of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets strapped together. It therefore will be capable of creating around three times the thrust of a single Falcon 9 rocket, allowing SpaceX to perform missions beyond low Earth orbit.

SpaceX also ultimately plans to be able to recover all three rocket cores that power the Falcon Heavy, just like it’s done over the last year with main rocket booster stage of its Falcon 9s. It’s unclear if the company will attempt to recover the boosters of this maiden rocket.

Of course, Musk also said earlier this fall at the International Astronautical Congress that he plans to pour all of SpaceX’s resources into an even bigger rocket architecture, known as the Interplanetary Transport System (or Big Fucking Rocket, for short).

That new mega-rocket, when built, would essentially obsolesce the Falcon Heavy and the Falcon 9. It will be capable of taking on the same duties that those rockets perform, while adding new capabilities that range from planting a colony on Mars to making 30-minute transcontinental travel possible on Earth.

In that light, maybe shooting a Tesla into orbit around the Red Planet doesn’t seem so outlandish.

Additional reporting by Loren Grush.

Update December 2nd, 8:0PM ET: This story has been updated to include back and forth between The Verge and Musk.

Comments

I’m the first to make the joke. Talk about vertical integration.

so many levels

Both the Roadster and the FH can undergo RUD together, perhaps, but how will they track the Roadster in space if the FH makes it into orbital space? It’s not exactly a large object and I don’t think they’ll put telemetry equipment in it?

Oh, it’s outlandish. Boosting a Tesla to Mars orbit? Heh. That’s seriously outlandish.

But it’s just a test flight. If SpaceX succeeds in getting that Tesla to Mars orbit, it’ll send a clear message to NASA: we can get cargoes to Mars orbit, and do it for a fraction of ULA’s cost. Care to buy some flights?

And if it fails, SpaceX will collect telemetry, evaluate what went wrong and tweak the design for the next try. That’s how it’s always been with rocketry.

Elon seems to be making room in his garage for a Mark II Roadster. He’ll never see his old one again, that’s for certain.

I’m wondering how they’ll know if the cargo makes it to Mars orbit. They must have some navigation and communications plan of some sort.

Elon seems to be making room in his garage for a Mark Mars II Roadster.

sorry, couldn’t resist.

cargoes

heh

This will get media attention, all right.

So Musk’s Tesla will be the new Russell’s Teapot?

so glad i clicked

Genius marketing from Tesla. Though it could prove the opposite if the rocket explodes

There is no such thing as bad publicity..remember?

Yeah ? Just ask Harvey Weinstein.

Well, his Hollywood career is over, but he could still run for president.

He’s no less qualified than the Idiot-In-Chief we currently have. And at least we already know who he’ll be looking to grab!

After picking up the signature of the sophisticated roadster, aliens come down to earth to welcome us into the intergalactic federation.

We are sending an outlandish car in an outlandish rocket to Mars. New definition of Badass !!

I just like the idea that he doesn’t keep designing until he’s absolutely sure it won’t blow up.

He just goes all space Kerbal on it and says "Okay, this might work. 3…2…1…"

It’s not that they wouldn’t if they could eliminate all doubt of failure. It simply doesn’t work like that, at some point you just gotta try it out. That has nothing to do with his special billionaire silicon valley mind.

Tesla, now with 34 million mile range.

what a joke

Bottom line: he wants to do it and his engineers have been scrambling all night to figure it out. Has no idea if it is feasible.

Which part are you referring to? Cos transporting the car is just like transporting anything else. And going to Mars is something everyone knows is feasible, it’s just a case of figuring it out and actually doing it. NASA would have done it already if America wanted to pump money into it.

Feasible while keeping the deadline.
Each cargo has specific engineering requirements. You don’t just pop up the trunk and stuff junk inside, you know.

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