One of the most significant rocket launches in years is scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday.
- Falcon Heavy rocket launch scheduled for Tuesday
- Rocket will carry Elon Musk's Tesla Roaster, dummy named 'Starman'
LIVE COVERAGE: Count on Spectrum News on Tuesday for comprehensive coverage of the launch. We'll have live coverage on TV, on our Facebook page, on Instagram and live feeds on Twitter. Also watch the launch live on our website. The launch window opens at 1:30 p.m. ET and closes at 4 p.m.
On Launch Complex 39A, where the Saturn V rocket lifted off, sending Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon, the Falcon Heavy sits in its place.
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has been years in the making — and the company is looking to it to explore deeper into space.
It's currently the world's most powerful rocket, and SpaceX claims it’s the most powerful rocket since the Apollo days.
The “Falcon Heavy is this really new, great opportunity," said Addie Dove, a UCF planetary science professor. "It’s sort of pushing the boundaries of what we’re going to be able to do in space. The Falcon Heavy is ... a test demo, to show that they are going to actually have capabilities to put heavier and bigger payloads up into orbit.”
Seven years ago, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk revealed details about the new rocket.
“We’re super excited to announce some of the details around the Falcon Heavy development,” he said then.
While the company's Falcon 9 is designed to send satellites, space station cargo and eventually crew to low Earth orbit, the Falcon Heavy was built to go farther.
“It certainly opens up a wide range of possibilities such as returning to the moon and conceivably going to Mars,” Musk said.
Since the beginning of SpaceX, Musk has set his sights on Mars. That’s why during Tuesday's test flight, the billionaire entrepreneur, who also founded the Tesla electric-vehicle company, plans to send his own, red-cherry Tesla Roadster to an orbit around Mars. A dummy named Starman — named after a David Bowie song — will be seated in the Roadster.
Musk's expectations for launch
Asked during a news conference Monday about whether he's worried about what happens to the Roadster, Musk replied, "We're not worried about the car. It'll be fine. It's the last of my concerns."
Although the plan is to put the Roadster into Mars orbit where, if the mission is successful, the car will stay "for several hundred million years," he's downplayed expectations, repeatedly saying that there's a good chance the Falcon Heavy will blow up.
""I'll be happy if it just clears the pad," Musk said Monday.
That said, "I think what I find strange is that normally I feel stressed out (about launches,) but I feel quite giddy and happy, actually," Musk said. "I'm really hopeful for this flight going as planned.
Regardless of what happens, the main objective of the launch, Musk said Monday, is to glean information and data.
"If it blows up the pad, that will be a real pain in the neck," Musk said. "... It'll be a huge downer... but hopefully, if it goes wrong, it'll go wrong far into the mission so we've learned as much as we can."
A mishap wouldn't affect production of the Falcon Heavy, he said. But it would take up to nine months to repair the pad.
If successful, however, SpaceX could target another Falcon Heavy launch in about three months.
SpaceX plans to land all three of the Falcon Heavy's boosters. The two side first-stage boosters will head back to land, to pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The center booster — which will carry the second stage and the Roadster — will have to go farther into space than the two side boosters and will try to successfully land on the drone ship in the Atlantic.
"We'll have a good time no matter what happens. It'll be exciting no matter what," Musk said. "We might get one big boom."
Expect huge crowds
If you're in Central Florida or on the Space Coast, be prepared for a series of sonic booms around 9 minutes after launch or later, with the boosters returning to Earth.
An estimated 100,000 people are expected to be on the Space Coast to witness this historic mission. Local officials say hotels are booked up.
Expect popular viewing spots to be packed, and traffic jammed before and after the launch.
Nelson Flackus, camping at Port Canaveral's Jetty Park, was gearing up for a big show Monday to see his second rocket launch.
"This place will be packed," he said.
Musk has a talent for turning a younger generation on to space and space travel with pop culture references. In the car, Bowie’s "Space Oddity" will be playing. And SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are named in honor of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.
“Having the capability to go to at least further out in the solar system and probably to Mars with the Falcon Heavy is a really groundbreaking step that we haven’t been able to do for human spaceflight and we haven’t done, even go to the moon, in a really long time,” Dove said.