as you will certainly know, the inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy ended yesterday with some success. The rocket built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company has transported its payload beyond Earth orbit and launched it toward Mars. The payload, not a symbol for mankind but rather a commercial for Musk’s companies, was a Tesla Roadster with an appropriate red painting. At the wheel a mannequin wearing a space suit, always produced by SpaceX, called Starman.
The iconic image, which you see below, has been around the world the moment it was taken.
The car will not land on the red planet to avoid contamination, but it will meet it in August, when it will approach Mars before being sucked into a solar orbit in which it will remain adrift for millions of years.
Meanwhile, Falcon Heavy has returned to the base. Or rather, two-thirds of the rocket have returned to the base because the Central Core, the main stage that brought the payload into orbit, crashed on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean at a speed of 300 miles per hour. Fortunately it missed the drone platform by 100 meters, spraying it with shrapnels but without causing heavy damages.
Personally, despite being happy for the (partial) success of the mission, I can’t join the global celebrations. If you allow me I would like to use this jocking meme, because it perfectly sums up my thought:
Because in terms of human exploration and expansion in space there’s no difference with conventional rockets: in the end that car will always take 6 months to reach Mars; in the end, anything launched with the Falcon will have a very low fuel reserve to maneuver and will always have to travel in what might be called a “controlled drift” with unacceptable flight times for a human being; in the end, the Falcons don’t go on Mars, their function is that of the springs that throw the ball into pinballs: they give the push, then it’s the ball’s business. So the day that Musk will bring men to Mars they’ll arrive there after they’ve traveled for months inside a narrow capsule that is a tenth or less the total mass that has departed from Earth, and will have no chance to go back (and indeed this is precisely Musk’s plan: to make the volunteers to settle there).
In short, net of reusable rocket technology we have not come a long way.
However it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the undeniable advantage of this system: saving. The launch of a Falcon Heavy today costs $ 90 millions while that of a conventional rocket, like the next NASA Space Launch System, can cost more than a billion dollars.
Although the price is still too high to allow the advent of mass spaceflight and thus to pull the trigger on a real space age, it becomes tempting for carrying out exploration programs more complex than today’s, for example one can start to talk about space stations in lunar orbit or Moon bases – always limited to a select few – but also to expand the ISS with larger and more complex modules. In addition, a small reusable rocket could bring private satellites or, perhaps, electromagnetic thrusters prototypes, into orbit.
However, as long as a PNN engine or an Emdrive will not be able to reach the orbit on its own, innovations like Musk’s Falcon are essential. Anyway, I would be cautious with dreaming, as Musk does, a world where rockets have replaced the airplanes, because rockets filled with hundreds of passengers at a time are, in my humble opinion, an announced tragedy.