April 2018 Published in Forbes
It was interesting to see the news today that Elon Musk has announced the successful launch of the ‘Falcon Heavy’ rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Musk, AI pioneer, co-founder of Tesla and CEO of SpaceX, the private American aerospace company, was buoyant about the historic event, as it marks a step closer to enabling humans to ultimately colonise other worlds.
The rocket is intended to have a payload capability of 64 tonnes – the equivalent of putting about 40 small family compact cars into a low-earth orbit, but this ‘dry run’ carried just one small car and one lonely passenger. Musk’s old cherry-red open-topped Tesla sports car and a mannequin ‘driver’ properly attired in a space suit are, at time of writing, already blasting towards Mars at around seven miles per second.
The vehicle is intended to stay in an elliptical orbit around the Sun that reaches out as far as the red planet. In a deliciously eclectic touch to the story, the convertible car’s stereo is permanently playing a David Bowie soundtrack.
At its apogee, the cosmos bound convertible will be roughly 141 million miles from Earth, after which it will float around space forever, much like Bowie’s celebrated lost astronaut ‘Major Tom’. The soundtrack is apparently looping “Life on Mars?” by Bowie, despite Musk’s previous announcement that the speakers would be booming out “Space Oddity”; sadly, it’s a purely academic issue, because, of course, sound can’t be heard in space.
But the serious side to this story is that SpaceX have made enormous cost reductions and also vastly improved the potential payload of putting ironmongery into space. Space stations, satellites, telescopes and all manner of techno-tin will be cheaper to put into orbit, hence a space station upon which interstellar craft could be built, freed from the restrictions of gravity, brings ‘Star Trek’ one step closer to reality within a human generation.
Space, perhaps not the final frontier for much longer, might soon be colonised quicker than we thought. Easier access to orbit, combined with Musk’s penchant for integrating AI into machinery, might also lead to making Elon Musk into the world’s richest entrepreneur. Not the man who sold the world, rather the man who bought it…