The world’s most powerful space rocket lit the skies above Florida on Tuesday afternoon as it lifted off on a first deep-space voyage that could bring closer the first manned mission to Mars.
SpaceX, the upstart private spaceflight company that developed its new Falcon Heavy rocket by strapping together three reusable boosters from its smaller Falcon 9 cargo craft, had given the flight only a 50-50 chance of success. On Monday, Elon Musk, the company’s billionaire founder, had even expressed fears the 27-engine rocket might blow up on the launchpad.
But in spite of a delay of two hours and 15 minutes, the launch went without a hitch and provided a spectacular fireworks show for an estimated half a million spectators who packed the beaches and prime viewing sites near the Kennedy Space Centre.
The rocket, carrying Musk’s red Tesla electric sports car as an experimental and whimsical payload, will take at least six months to reach an elliptical solar orbit the same distance from the sun as Mars.
It provides the United States its first deep space, heavy-lift capability since the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket last flew in 1973.