If you were to ask us prior to 6 February 2018 if an image of an automobile in space was real, we’d reply, with almost no hesitation, that the photograph was likely a fake. But after that date? Well, there’s a chance that we’d be looking at an authentic image of Tesla Roadster.
A series of images that seemed too fantastical to be real started making their way around the internet shortly after Elon Musk and his company SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida:
These images are real. This Tesla Roadster served as the payload for SpaceX’s maiden test of the Falcon Heavy rocket:
On Tuesday, Feb. 6th at 3:45 PM ET, Falcon Heavy successfully lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two, with the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb)–a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel.
Falcon Heavy’s first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit.
SpaceX’s February launch was just a test run for the Falcon Heavy rocket. As such, the payload didn’t have to be anything specific. In December 2010, for instance, Musk launched a wheel of cheese into space during a test flight of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.
The Falcon Heavy propelled the Tesla into space with the intention of sending as far as Mars’s orbit, but the car overshot its target, heading towards the asteroid belt:
Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, which launched on top of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy earlier today, is going farther out into the Solar System than originally planned. The car was supposed to be put on a path around the Sun that would take the vehicle out to the distance of Mars’ orbit. But the rocket carrying the car seems to have overshot that trajectory and has put the Tesla in an orbit that extends out into the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The viral images showing a real Tesla Roadster floating through space are actually screenshots of a live feed taken from cameras mounted on the vehicle. The “astronaut” in the vehicle is actually just a mannequin in a spacesuit dubbed “Starman.” The live feed is no longer active as of this writing, but you can relive “Starman’s” voyage into space below:
- Correction [7 February 2018]: Musk's company is called SpaceX, not TeslaX, as a previous version of this article erroneously stated on first mention.
Malik, Tariq.. “Wheel of Cheese Launched Into Space On Private Spacecraft.”
Space.com. 9 December 2010.
Grush, Loren. “Elon Musk’s Tesla Overshot Mars’ Orbit and is Headed to the Asteroid Belt.”
The Verge. 6 February 2018.
Chang, Kenneth. “Falcon Heavy, in a Roar of Thunder, Carries SpaceX’s Ambition Into Orbit.”
New York Times. 6 February 2018.