SpaceX has made history too many times to count in the last few years, but the 2018 Falcon Heavy test stands out. Not only did SpaceX ace its first heavy-lift demonstration, but it also gave us all a good laugh by launching Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster into space. It’s still up there, complete with the spacesuited mannequin known as Starman. SpaceX has noted that Starman has made his first close pass of Mars, getting within a few million miles of the red planet.
The Falcon Heavy began life as the Falcon 9 Heavy, the first heavy-lift SpaceX vehicle that could reach destinations like Mars. The rocket is actually three rockets—a central Falcon 9 with structural reinforcement and then two more Falcon 9s mounted to the side. While SpaceX has since begun focusing on its next-generation Starship vehicle for heavy-lift missions, the Falcon Heavy has completed a few flights since its maiden voyage.
That first flight was a real barn-burner, though. SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy from historic launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The side-mounted Falcon 9 boosters flew back down for a perfect landing, but the center was going too fast and hit the water. The payload, however, made it to space as planned.
When testing a new rocket, engineers don’t want to put anything important inside. Musk reminded everyone at the time there was a significant chance the rocket would just explode. Instead of something boring, SpaceX used Musk’s Tesla Roadster as ballast. Because SpaceX has a flair for the dramatic, it added cameras to the car so we could see “Starman” riding the car into space. It was, admittedly, pretty cool.
Following the launch, SpaceX burned the second stage’s engines until the fuel was exhausted. That left the car and its eternal passenger crossing the orbit of Mars. Every now and then, we can expect Starman and Mars to be in the same part of space, and that just happened for the first time.
Starman, last seen leaving Earth, made its first close approach with Mars today—within 0.05 astronomical units, or under 5 million miles, of the Red Planet pic.twitter.com/gV8barFTm7
According to SpaceX, Starman got very close to the red planet, at least on an orbital scale. The car made it within 0.5 AU (under 5 million miles) of Mars before the pair moved apart again. Mars would have appeared smaller from that vantage than the moon does from Earth, but it would have looked like a planet and not a distant point of light.
This dance will continue long into the future. Whatever is left of the car might crash into Earth or Venus in a few million years, but it’ll keep cruising the stars until then.
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Elon Musk, Tesla, Inc., SpaceX, Mars, Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, Falcon Heavy
World news – US – SpaceX: Starman Just Flew Elon’s Tesla Past Mars for the First Time – ExtremeTech