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Why Elon Musk hopes the Falcon Heavy launch will spark ‘new space race’

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is encouraging aerospace companies to up their game after successfully launching the most powerful rocket since NASA’s Saturn V.
Falcon Heavy launches at Cape Canaveral, photo by Jim Watson/Getty

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wants a new space race, and it’s hard to argue with his reason why.

“Space races are exciting,” Musk said at a press conference on Tuesday, adding that a new space race could “open up a sense of possibility.”

It’s also hard to argue with the fact that Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, is dominating that race after Tuesday’s (mostly) successful launch and landing of Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket since Saturn V.

After several delays, the SpaceX rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:45 p.m. ET. The payload was Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster, and the plan was to send the red sports car to orbit the Red planet. But that didn’t quite work out. Musk Tweeted on Tuesday that the Roadster had overshot the Mars trajectory and was headed for the Asteroid Belt instead.

Third burn successful. Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 7, 2018

Still, you can watch a live stream of the Roadster careening through space, piloted by a dummy who, if he had ears and if space weren’t an eternally noiseless vacuum, would hear David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” blare from the car stereo.

The only other malfunction of the day was the apparent loss of the rocket’s central core, which delivered the payload into space but later smashed into the Atlantic Ocean after missing its landing pad on a drone ship.

“The centre core hit water at 300 miles per hour and took out two of the engines of the drone ship,” Musk said, adding that it landed about a football field away from the landing pad.

SpaceX isn’t completely sure what happened to the core, but Musk said:

“If we got the footage ... that sounds like some pretty fun footage if the cameras didn't get blown up as well, then we'll put that up ... for – you know – just the blooper reel.”

Falcon Heavy’s pair of side boosters were more graceful, sticking their landing in near-perfect unison at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

After personally inspecting the boosters, Musk said SpaceX will be able to reuse them if it wants. This would allow SpaceX to recoup a sizeable portion of its $500 million total investment in Falcon Heavy, all of which came from private money. It’d also give the aerospace company a huge advantage over its competitors in the new space race.

Unlike the Cold War, this space race has many participants. One is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which in 2015 made history by achieving the first vertical landing from space with its New Shepard rocket. Bezos wished Musk luck on Twitter before Tuesday’s launch. Musk replied with a kiss emoji.

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Other SpaceX competitors include Planetary Resources, a company that seeks to mine asteroids for natural resources; Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which aims to provide affordable space tourism; and Moon Express, a Florida-based company that wants build a business transporting people to and from the moon.

Musk told reporters on Tuesday that he hopes the launch will cause these companies, as well as national space programs, to up their game.

“I think it’s going to encourage other companies and countries to say, ‘Hey, if SpaceX, which is a commercial company, and it can do this, and nobody paid for Falcon Heavy, it was paid with internal funds,’ then they could do it, too. So I think it’s going to encourage other countries and companies to raise their sights and say, ‘We can do bigger and better,’ which is great.”


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