Following thefrom Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, founder and real-life comic book character Elon Musk answered questions from reporters about the achievement and his plans for the future.
Musk relayed the fate of the rocket’s center booster, which missed its droneship landing, unlike the spectacle of the near simultaneous touchdown of the twin side boosters.
Musk went on to reveal a number of remarkable things about the mission and what’s next for SpaceX, starting with the difficulties of getting to Tuesday’s launch.
The company’s total investment in Falcon Heavy was “a lot more than I’d like to admit,” Musk said, adding that SpaceX considered canceling the program three times because it was so hard.and posed significant design challenges.
Musk guessed that over a half billion dollars or “probably more” had gone into Falcon Heavy, which is crazy both because it’s a lot of money and because it’s so much less than NASA’s cost to develop the Saturn V, which was over $6 billion in 1970s dollars.
Falcon Heavy’s demonstration mission essentially ended after the second stage booster gave Musk’sone last push toward Mars on Tuesday evening.
But Musk told reporters that Falcon Heavy can go much farther. He said the rocket could “launch things direct to Pluto and beyond; no stop needed. You don’t even need a gravity assist.”
When questions turned to his space-faring Tesla Roadster and dummy driver, he revealed a little easter egg hidden on the car.
“If you look on the dashboard, there’s a tiny Roadster with a tiny space man,” Musk said, referring to a small Hot Wheels version of the Roadster mounted on the dash. “It’s kind of silly and fun but I think that silly and fun things are important… I think the imagery is something that’s going to get people excited around the world. It’s still trippin’ me out. I’m trippin’ balls here.”
As for the driver, dubbed “Starman,” it turns out that his suit is a real, functional spacesuit.
“That’s the real deal,” Musk said. “It took us three years to design that space suit…you can just jump in a vacuum chamber with it and it’s fine.”
Musk also revealed some of his plans for other SpaceX projects, peppered with the uh… optimistic timeframes he’s known for declaring (but not always sticking to). For starters, he said that the second version of the Dragon capsule, which can carry human crew to space is nearly ready for primetime.
“We’re aspiring to fly a crew to orbit at the end of this year,” Musk said.
The black T-shirt-wearing exec also described a new, unusual type of drone ship SpaceX is building that could be used to help recover Dragon and fairings (the nose cone that covers the payload on cargo unmanned flights).
“We’ve got a special boat to catch the fairing… it’s like a giant catcher’s mitt in boat form… I think it might be able to do the same thing with Dragon.”
Beyond floating catcher’s mitts and its first manned flights, Musk said SpaceX is also moving ahead on its Mars ship, also known as “BFR.” He said testing of BFR could begin later this year at the company’s facility in Texas, starting with “hopper” flights that could see the ship launching several milies into the atmosphere and coming back down.
Musk didn’t detail any timelines for possible missions to the moon or Mars, but did say that an Earth orbit test of BFR may be three to four years off.
That would seem to put SpaceX behind its “aspirational goal” of flying a cargo mission to Mars in 2022, but today doesn’t seem like a smart day to go questioning Musk’s aspirations.
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