Yesterday a billionaire launched his car into space on a $90 million rocket. It was a fun publicity stunt, sure – but some are bemoaning the lack of any scientific value to the launch.
That billionaire is of course Elon Musk, who launched his Tesla car on the test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Thanks to a bigger than expected boost from the rocket’s upper stage, the car is now on its way to the asteroid belt in an orbit that may last a billion years.
And on board the car? Well, there was a mannequin called "Starman" wearing SpaceX's new spacesuit, a disk containing Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, and a small message on a circuit board declaring the car was "made on Earth by humans".
That, however, was it. And there's a bit of annoyance that SpaceX did not include anything else on this launch, such as some student-led experiments or projects, or some other satellites. The science that could have been afforded on such a trip, to some, would have been extremely worthwhile.
“I do see this as a missed opportunity,” Infinite Dimensions CEO Jeffrey Wallace, a US government contractor developing advanced navigation systems, told IFLScience.
“First, there is the whole access to space for experiments, and what opportunities there are receive a lot of attention and vetting. Second was the opportunity for SpaceX to be exposed to potential new technology partners to see what they could do with no real investment on their part.”
For example, the six-hour coast on the rocket's upper stage sent the car through the Van Allen belt, a scientifically interesting region of radiation surrounding Earth. It'll also pass the orbit of Mars and enter the asteroid belt, where a telescope on board could have checked out some asteroids.