Just over one year ago, the world was glued to its screens watching Elon Musk’s biggest test yet: the Falcon Heavy’s first launch. Years in the making, the launch cemented SpaceX’s initial lead in the new space race with the success of the most powerful rocket in the world, complete with booster-landing ballet.
After NASA rejected carrying a scientific payload on the test, which had to show it could transport an object to Mars, Musk decided on the gimmicky backup option of his own personal car. The launch became YouTube’s second-most livestreamed event. Tesla also streamed the car, with three cameras mounted inside, giving close ups of a dummy deemed Starman for four hours of its flight through space. It’s currently garnered over 16 million views.
The Roadster wasn’t just a roadster—Starman was named after David Bowie, the car was outfitted with Douglas Adams and Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy swag, and even included copies of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels loaded on an experimental technology known as 5D laser optical storage.
But reactions to the stunt weren’t all positive. “It feeds into a cult of personality which is at odds with the ‘space for all humanity’ narrative that we in the space world frequently use to justify space exploration,” commented Alice Gorman at the College of the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University in Australia and an expert on space debris.
“And let’s face it, there’s no getting away from the fact that a red sports car is all about boys and their toys. The car is a signifier of wealth and masculinity. We’ve been trying so hard to leave behind the era where the archetypal astronaut was an elite white male, and we’ve just stepped right back into it.”
In the year since the Falcon Heavy test and Roadster launch Musk has sold flamethrowers and gotten into needless Twitter arguments. But SpaceX’s rocketry continues to push the limits, especially with tests already beginning for the rocket intended to replace the Falcon Heavy—the Starship, formerly known as the BFR.
While not quite ready for a full-blown test, the Starships test model, known as a hopper, is prepared to launch soon. It has faced some adversity due to strong winds in SpaceX’s Texas test site but should be ready to start trials relatively soon. If Musk can top himself is anyone’s guess, but future launches can undoubtedly expect the same level of showmanship.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics