Musk pulls off triple success for Major Tom

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The highly-anticipated launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral was a flawless demonstration, and helped by a 500,000 strong cheering crowd who clearly thought that ‘space’ and ‘rockets’ were again sexy and extremely interesting.

Elon Musk and his team also brought some fun to the whole exercise. Who else might have supplied his own Tesla sports car into the payload bay, as well as ‘Starman’ the dummy astronaut ‘driving’ the vehicle towards Mars while listening to David Bowie telling the story of Major Tom. Quite what the Martians or other Little Green men might make of the cherry red Tesla and the dummy can only be guessed at. There’s also a plaque on board with each of the 6000 SpaceX staff names engraved. That’s a nice touch.

But Musk also managed to bring back the two strap-on booster rockets, which arrived back at the Cape in an almost balletic sequence of perfect synchronisation. The First Stage was not recovered, but Musk has done that almost a dozen times now and is hardly essential.

However, it is also worth remembering that the hard work actually starts now. The Falcon Heavy was almost four years late in getting to launch, and Musk has admitted more than a few times that there were considerable engineering difficulties. He has to solve those problems and bring the same degree of routine that clients to the ‘ordinary’ Falcon 9 enjoy.

There will be other Falcon Heavy launches, notably for NASA and commercial clients. Arabsat, Inmarsat and Viasat each have missions booked onto Falcon Heavy rockets.


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