FOR THE WEEK OF FEB. 12, 2018
‘We want a new space race,’ says the man behind historic Falcon Heavy launch
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We don't often see a historic U.S. space launch these days, but one made front-page news last week. An innovative company, SpaceX, sent the world's most powerful rocket aloft from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The 23-story-tall behemoth, called Falcon Heavy, was propelled by 27 engines. It took off from the same launchpad that sent three Apollo 11 crewmen to the moon in 1969. No astronauts are aboard the new mission, which has other important differences. A huge, money-saving one came shortly after the Feb. 6 liftoff, when two booster rockets returned themselves for reuse. They landed upright back at Kennedy Space Center, though a third splashed into the sea instead of placing itself on a temporary floating platform. Back when a government agency called NASA ran U.S. space launches, each single-use booster was dropped into the ocean to sink.
Falcon Heavy is the first private rocket sending cargo out of Earth's orbit. It's also the first heavy-lift launch from Cape Canaveral since 2011, when the Space Shuttle made its final flight. "We want a new space race," says Elon Musk, SpaceX founder. "Races are exciting." As a promotional stunt, the payload was a red Tesla convertible that was released into a solar orbit intended to take it near Mars. The car, built by a California company Musk owns, is expected to circle in space for hundreds of millions of years.
If SpaceX can fly the Falcon Heavy reliably, the rocket could lift spy satellites into orbit for the U.S. military and help NASA send supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station 250 miles above Earth – and possibly even to Mars in future decades.
SpaceX founder says: The orbiting car "is kind of silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important." – Elon Musk
Space expert says: "It's hard for me to overstate the importance of the launch today. This could end up being really the savior of NASA and deep space exploration." -- Lori Garver, former NASA deputy administrator
Tech writer says: "Elon Musk built SpaceX to make human life multi-planetary." – Tim Urban, author and blogger at waitbutwhy.com
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