Image: SpaceX via Flickr.
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy test launch was audacious. Audacious investments like this were once constrained to projects funded by government coffers. And while the U.S. government continues to be audacious, it no longer aims its audacity at the stars, but at the past. With the launch of Falcon Heavy, Elon Musk officially becomes the top fulfiller of science fiction aspirations. Unlike the excellent streaming content on Netflix and Amazon video, Musk delivers actual science, not fiction.
The audacity this moment comes not just in the form of launching a giant rocket. It also derives from launching Musk’s Tesla Roadster into space. It comes from the synchronized landing of two of the cores, an image that looked like something straight out of a 1950s science fiction movie. It comes from the will to invest in a project that is hard, where failure at times is absolute, and where any financial returns may be years away.
For those who grew up on science fiction and then watched NASA inspire generations of would-be astronauts, there has been no more audacious moment in recent history than this launch.
Experiments like driverless cars carry with them uncertainty and more than a little ambivalence. Although everyone is writing about AI, we know that AI isn’t really as smart as we are told, and that in the hands of humans, it is likely to do unintelligent things. Sure, the Amazon Echo and the Google Home sport some audacity at putting conversational interfaces into homes with somewhat limited utility, along with Apple shipping watches with cellular features— those technologies edge toward venturesome, they don’t come close to being audacious.
An individual industrial genius (yes, I know it is a superlative) who launches his own car into space and plays David Bowie’s Space Oddity on a loop is audacious.
The Falcon Heavy test launch wasn’t without it mishaps. The third booster apparently blew up near its platform, damaging the platform and sinking the booster into the ocean. The orbital insertion burn also missed its mark, launching the Roadster appears into an elongated orbit that will place it near Ceres rather than Mars.
Regardless of these issues, with all of the negatives in the political realm that aim U.S. government investments toward dust and division, the Falcon Heavy launch captured something of those moment when we all looked up in awe at Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. America isn’t locked out of space, but they key have been passed from NASA to private industry. Elon Musk, and his competitor and frival Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin).
Context and Perspective
Our planet, and our problems, look different from space. They put humanity into a context that forces us to see how interconnected we are, how small a place in the cosmos we live in. Going into space is not just about industry or creating a backup, but for helping the people on the planet below ask bigger questions of themselves. Earth needs more audacity of the right kind and Falcon Heavy and Starman are a jump good start for our depleted batteries of imagination.
For more from Rasmus on science fiction and industry, read Thunderbirds Are Go: Season 1 at PopMatters.
Also see: Disney Abandons the Future in Tomorrowland: And What they Should Do About It here at Serious Insights.