The world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, blasted off Tuesday on its highly anticipated maiden test flight, carrying CEO Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla roadster toward an orbit near Mars. Screams and cheers erupted at Cape Canaveral, Florida as the massive rocket fired its 27 engines and rumbled into the blue sky over the same NASA launchpad that served as a base for the US missions to Moon four decades ago.
Loaded with Musk’s red Tesla and a mannequin in a spacesuit, the monster rocket’s historic test voyage captured the world’s imagination. SpaceX’s webcast showed the Tesla Roadster soaring into space, as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” played in the background — with the words “DON’T PANIC” visible on the dashboard, in an apparent nod to the sci-fi series the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
Then, capitalizing on cost-cutting reusable rocket technology pioneered by SpaceX, the two boosters flew themselves back to Earth for safe simultaneous touchdowns on twin landing pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, about eight minutes after launch. Each rocket unleashed a double sonic boom as it neared the landing zone.
The center booster rocket, which SpaceX had predicted was less likely to be salvaged, slammed into the Atlantic at about 300 miles per hour (483 kph), showering the deck of the nearby drone landing vessel and destroying two of the ship’s thrusters, Musk told a post-launch news conference.