Elon Musk is launching a Tesla Roadster to Mars orbit - and he just posted an Instagram photo to prove it

elon musk red tesla roadster falcon heavy rocket fairingElon Musk's 2008 midnight-cherry-red Tesla Roadster sits inside the carbon-fiber fairing of SpaceX's first Falcon Heavy rocket.Elon Musk/SpaceX via Instagram

  • Elon Musk said in early December that he'd launch his old red Tesla Roadster to Mars.
  • While Musk repeatedly confirmed that he was serious, doubts have lingered ever since.
  • But on Friday, Musk posted a photo to Instagram of the Tesla inside a rocket fairing.
  • The rocket is SpaceX's brand-new Falcon Heavy launcher, which is scheduled to fly in January 2018.

In a series of tweets on Dec. 1, SpaceX founder and tech billionaire Elon Musk said he planned to launch a Tesla electric car to Mars orbit in 2018.

Musk toyed with the popular press, first by confirming his tweeted plans with The Verge, then backpedaling the claim, then re-confirming it with Ars Technica and several other media outlets.

But if Musk has left any room for doubt, it is now gone with a striking photo he posted to Instagram on Friday afternoon. The photo shows a 2008 midnight-cherry-red Tesla Roadster sitting in the carbon-fiber fairing of a Falcon Heavy rocket - just as Musk promised.

The launch vehicle is the first of its kind for SpaceX, and the aerospace company claims on its website to be the most powerful rocket in the world today. (The Saturn V rocket that NASA used to launch astronauts to the moon has been retired since the mid-1970s.)

With enough fuel and the right trajectory, it's got enough thrust to launch a payload heavier than a Tesla to Pluto, let alone Mars.

"Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring," Musk wrote in his Instagram post. "Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel. The payload will be an original Tesla Roadster, playing Space Oddity, on a billion year elliptic Mars orbit."

A serious history of silly test payloads

falcon heavy rocket hangar cape canaveral 02 spacex elon musk twitterSpaceX's three-booster Falcon Heavy rocket in a hangar at Cape Canaveral in December 2017.SpaceX/Elon Musk via Twitter

Earlier this week, Musk revealed photos of the first Falcon Heavy ever built inside a Cape Canaveral hangar. The 230-foot-tall, three-booster rocket is scheduled for its maiden launch no earlier than January 2018.

But, noticeably, the reusable rocket system is missing the clamshell top, or fairing, in the photos.

Musk demanded to be taken seriously prior to releasing the crucial photo of that missing part, though.

For example, Musk previously said he planned to launch the "[s]illiest thing we can imagine" on Falcon Heavy's first test-flight. And in 2010, he launched a wheel of cheese into orbit during the maiden voyage of Dragon, a spaceship built by SpaceX. Falcon Heavy is also up to the task: It's capable of sending a payload of 37,000 pounds - roughly 14 Tesla Roadsters' worth of mass - to Mars.

"Red car for a red planet," Musk replied to a Twitter user in early December.

The Tesla won't be going to the planet Mars, as Musk told Phil Plait, an astronomer and writer. Instead, it's "going near Mars," Plait wrote - specifically in what's called a Hohmann transfer orbit: an elliptical path that goes out to the orbit of Mars and back to Earth orbit on a near-endless loop (hence the "billion years or so" detail from Musk).

It's unlikely the Tesla will be empty. Joy Dunn, an engineer at the company, tweeted on Dec. 1 that "this is legit and of course there will be cameras!" Musk also told Plait that he's willing to consider launching other objects inside the Tesla suggested by the public.

"Just bear in mind that there is a good chance this monster rocket blows up," Musk reportedly told Plait in an email, "so I wouldn't put anything of irreplaceable sentimental value on it."

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