Call it Elon Musk’s audacity of hope—or call it the wackiest PR stunt of recent times—but the Tesla-SpaceX founder can’t be said to be lacking imagination. On Tuesday, Musk launched a $100,000 Tesla Roadster—aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket—with a Starman robot propped at the wheel. And got the world talking about him, the car, and the rocket. There is a helpful—“for the aliens”—note on the car. It reads “Made on Earth by humans”. The car will continue down a path that will take it close to Mars. There is a chance it might crash into the Red Planet. If it doesn’t, the Roadster and the Starman are destined to continue on an eternal cosmic journey. Musk milked his moment well, tweeting, in a faux un-self-conscious manner, “Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth.”
The stunt focuses the attention on, mostly, the Falcon Heavy. It is the most powerful rocket in operation today, after the Saturn V rockets. With the launch, Musk and, by extension, the US, have flexed their heavy-payload delivery muscles—with its controlled fuel burning expertise, SpaceX has brought down launch costs to a fraction of what Nasa spent on similar launches. Many, of course, questioned Musk’s choice of payload. Shouldn’t the payload have been something that serves a purpose, they asked.
In any case, even if one overlooks the “lack of purpose”, some argued, doesn’t a massive car aimlessly orbiting Earth or continuing down a trajectory within the solar system pose grave risk as space debris? The answers are ‘yes’, and ‘yes’. But for Musk, this is an emphatic hurrah after a series of failures for SpaceX. At the moment though—with the deed done—it would be perhaps prudent to overlook the gimmickry and focus on the success for space-tech it represents.