Something Silly
December 1, 2017 9:18 PM   Subscribe

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket is set to finally launch on its maiden flight early in the new year all going well. Elon Musk had told us to expect the first cargo to be something silly. Today he announced just what it would be.
posted by Long Way To Go (72 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can’t tell what’s real anymore.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:32 PM on December 1 [9 favorites]


I guess it’s fortunate that Teslas have an infinite mile warranty.
posted by ejs at 9:35 PM on December 1


He makes ludicrous claims and holds them to unrealistic deadlines, and then he blows the deadlines, and then makes good on the unrealistic claims.

Unless the unrealistic claim is the deadline, where he completes it exactly one day ahead of schedule.

The massive effort of engineers, skilled workers and logistical and finance experts are what got it done, but Musk is the one who realized they could and should. He's like Steve Jobs, only slightly less of an asshole.

I'll take it over any goddamn Koch Brother frittering away their fortune to buy ultra-cons any day of the week.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:35 PM on December 1 [14 favorites]


He's like Steve Jobs, only slightly less of an asshole.

Yes, but the legacy of PayPal is still with us, so (*calculates*), kinda breaks even?
posted by alex_skazat at 9:41 PM on December 1 [1 favorite]


I guess this is what all the rich fuckers will be doing instead of building pyramids.
posted by Artw at 9:42 PM on December 1 [9 favorites]


Um, so he's basically sending trash to space?

I recently saw, with Ms. Ra, The Farthest: Voyager in Space, a brilliant documentary on the Voyager program. The optimism, the mixture of art and science, the brilliance of a design that's still chugging along 40 years later, it was so lovely; we were almost in tears by the end. Sigh… I guess we live in much more cynical times, how can anybody be inspired by this?
posted by Omon Ra at 9:49 PM on December 1 [10 favorites]


I guess this is what all the rich fuckers will be doing instead of building pyramids.

...we live in much more cynical times, how can anybody be inspired by this?
posted by Omon Ra at 9:49 PM


Hmmm...
posted by Behemoth at 9:53 PM on December 1 [5 favorites]


'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

posted by Omon Ra at 9:55 PM on December 1 [5 favorites]


Dude needs to read the room.
posted by Artw at 10:13 PM on December 1 [3 favorites]


how can anybody be inspired by this?

Why not?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:14 PM on December 1 [1 favorite]


Because it's wasteful, gauche, revolutionary french aristocrat crap at a time when the rich are working hard to permenantly impoverish the rest of us and we are therefore not in the mood for that crap?
posted by Artw at 10:23 PM on December 1 [38 favorites]


I'm not a fiction writer, but if I was, I'd be really frustrated right now. Because how do you write something plausible anymore, when reality itself has achieved complete implausibility?

This timeline is fucking weird.

I do enjoy these filler episodes, though. They don't move the whole "global ecopocalypse" plot forward much, but they keep things from being too dark.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:26 PM on December 1 [6 favorites]


My first reaction was: do we really need to export our space junk problem to Mars?

My second is: fuck your extravagant, pointless, egotistical gesture, Musk. Your fucking car? Your status-symbol-ass-deferred-emission vehicle? Wasting however many tons of fuel and person-hours for whatever point you're trying to make, which is I guess "buy my cars." I hope it crashes harmlessly into the sea.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:33 PM on December 1 [6 favorites]


I'm not a fiction writer, but if I was, I'd be really frustrated right now. Because how do you write something plausible anymore, when reality itself has achieved complete implausibility?

This timeline is fucking weird.


I have been saying for literally YEARS on this website that reality actually did end on 12/21/2012 and it was immediately replaced by Hollywood Screenwriter Reality.

I mean, seriously. It's the most logical explanation.
posted by hippybear at 10:40 PM on December 1 [10 favorites]


I have such mixed feelings about this. The rocket needs testing, and what better way than to send something heavy to Mars. I'm not too excited about the space junk endlessly orbiting Mars, but I am a bit tickled imagining the tizzy the Office of Planetary Protection is in right now
posted by Maxwell's demon at 10:42 PM on December 1 [2 favorites]


Previously, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said he intends to launch the "silliest thing we can imagine"

Gold coated 3D printed butts of 70 of the engineers

21450 copies of "Who Let The Dogs Out"

An animatropic copy of Bill Nighy fighting an animatronic copy of Bill Nye

I mean, it's sort of cool, but by no conceivable metric is it even especially silly.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:44 PM on December 1 [16 favorites]


This is absolutely brilliant cross brand marketing, and all of you discussing it is proof.

Elon Musk's greatest act is perhaps how well he plays the part.
posted by weed donkey at 10:48 PM on December 1 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile...

At present, the Voyager 1 spacecraft is 21 billion kilometers from Earth, or about 141 times the distance between the Earth and Sun. It has, in fact, moved beyond our Solar System into interstellar space. However, we can still communicate with Voyager across that distance.

This week, the scientists and engineers on the Voyager team did something very special. They commanded the spacecraft to fire a set of four trajectory thrusters for the first time in 37 years to determine their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses.

After sending the commands on Tuesday, it took 19 hours and 35 minutes for the signal to reach Voyager. Then, the Earth-bound spacecraft team had to wait another 19 hours and 35 minutes to see if the spacecraft responded. It did. After nearly four decades of dormancy, the Aerojet Rocketdyne manufactured thrusters fired perfectly.

So there's that,.... as Carl Sagan smiles a lot.

https://arstechnica.com/
posted by Freedomboy at 10:57 PM on December 1 [34 favorites]


I'm not too excited about the space junk endlessly orbiting Mars

I think the Ars Technica article is mistaken on that. I figure the F9H can get a car TO the Mars vicinity, but actually entering orbit would require that car to be attached to a pretty impressive cruise stage with its own propulsion system in order to enter orbit.

Most likely it'll be in a heliocentric orbit that has an aphelion out near the Mars orbit.
posted by tclark at 11:00 PM on December 1 [4 favorites]


I'm not too excited about the space junk endlessly orbiting Mars

So many pessimists! I prefer to think it'll orbit a few decades, then be picked up by some enterprising salvager and sold to a museum, maybe one based on Ceres. There'll be some big fundraising drive to restore a car that's been sitting in vacuum a few decades, it'll make the system-wide news a few cycles, then bored kids will eventually wander/float by its display, and have to have the concept of wheeled vehicles explained to them by an equally bored android using the voice of Patrick Stewart.

Have a little faith, people!
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 11:08 PM on December 1 [36 favorites]


Some days the android switches things up and uses the voice of Brent Spiner, but no one ever gets the joke.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 11:09 PM on December 1 [27 favorites]


I hope it crashes harmlessly into the sea.

I don't think that's likely at all, you should be hoping it explodes harmlessly at or shortly after launch! Much more spectacular.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:33 PM on December 1 [1 favorite]


Because it's wasteful, gauche, revolutionary french aristocrat crap at a time when the rich are working hard to permenantly impoverish the rest of us and we are therefore not in the mood for that crap?

Is that the royal we ?
posted by Pendragon at 11:41 PM on December 1 [7 favorites]


Wait, it isn't the contents of the White House?

This is a missed opportunity to lift a low investment science package of some kind. I would even be ok with some temporary space graffiti or some colorful ionospheric activation. Hell, let's have a million kids make carbon fiber paper airplanes or something.

Parking a Tesla in orbit around Mars is... tone deaf as fuck. I mean, yeah, it's like ten million points on the scale of engineering nerd pranks so far, but, really?

Unless this is the timeline where Bruce Willis Clone #31 needs the Tesla to fight off the chitinoids from Alpha Centauri by driving it into the reaction chamber of CERN's MULHC and collapsing the eigenstates, but if we're on that timeline we're well and truly... Oh shit.

I probably shouldn't talk about this. But we really petition Elon to send up a bunch of Twinkies or fidget spinners or something else.
posted by loquacious at 11:53 PM on December 1 [3 favorites]


He's like Steve Jobs, only slightly less of an asshole.

Yeah just like Steve, if Steve had promised a phone and took thousands of preorders, then two years later promised two even newer phones when the first once only shipped 200 units in 2017Q3. Then fired 10%+ of his work force for “performance issues” coincidentally when the union organization was really getting going. etc. etc.
posted by sideshow at 11:54 PM on December 1 [5 favorites]


This is a missed opportunity to lift a low investment science package of some kind

Dude purposefully named his car models S, 3, and X to spell out SEX. We’re lucky he’s not putting up a giant picture of a penis that’s visible via the naked eye from Earth.
posted by sideshow at 11:59 PM on December 1 [3 favorites]


Thiel is just sending a bunch of bloood bags to the interstellar blood monolith for when he goes back to live on it.
posted by Artw at 12:07 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


Who does this hurt? No one. (Barring explosion, collision, or Bowie/electric car hating aliens)

I love this. It makes me happy. It makes me smile. If you're going to do a test launch and one-way trip, do it with STYLE! It is a complex and difficult load. And it is the ultimate version of strapping you favorite broken Matchbox car to a firework or model rocket and giving it the Space Viking funeral that it deserves!
posted by monopas at 2:06 AM on December 2 [12 favorites]


I would prefer a china teapot somewhere between Earth and Mars, but I suppose that's a less impressive demonstration of a heavy-lift rocket.
posted by ckape at 2:22 AM on December 2 [7 favorites]


I would have preferred a giant effigy of Donald Trump sculpted out of two tons of horseshit but I guess that’s why I’m not a billionaire space entrepreneur.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 3:18 AM on December 2 [2 favorites]


posted by Long Way To Go
👌🏻
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:41 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


This would be when we lost the "no advertisements in the rest of solar system" one, then?

Honestly, it's depressing that so much of our reality comes down to branding.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 3:44 AM on December 2 [6 favorites]


Wonder how many mars missions would have appreciated a free launch?

Could he have not sent one of those with 'THIS IS A PUBLICITY STUNT' spray painted on the side?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:53 AM on December 2 [3 favorites]


I prefer to think it'll orbit a few decades, then be picked up by some enterprising salvager and sold to a museum, maybe one based on Ceres

yes! maybe they can write that into the next season of The Expanse
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:54 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


Of course it's a publicity stunt. Space travel needs publicity. If he had just launched a scientific experiment, would it make the TV news? How much does a scientific satellite weigh? Who knows? How much does a car weigh? Damn, that's a helluva rocket.
posted by tommyD at 4:21 AM on December 2 [2 favorites]


Doesn't this basically guarantee that Elon Musk will die in space one day for lack of some resource he could have sent up instead of his car and thus had available as a long-shot MacGuffin?
posted by XMLicious at 4:40 AM on December 2 [5 favorites]


Long shot MacGuffin? Cue Heavy Metal plus Mars disaster movie. Ship blow up, astronauts flee on a spacewalk and drift to the derelict junk orbiting. They have some ion thrusters and a shield generator and just need some sort of platform to duct-tape them to. Tesla falls from the skies with a couple of astronauts screaming YEE-HAW, slams into the ground and rolls through the dome spurting fire out the backend, crashes, then a few seconds later the airbags deploy.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:56 AM on December 2 [2 favorites]


Part of the reason they're flying a silly payload is because they don't really expect it to work the first time 'round. This way, if it fails, the only loss is the car, not, say, something unique that scientists and engineers had worked tens of thousands of hours and spent millions of dollars to build.
posted by Alterscape at 5:47 AM on December 2 [16 favorites]


Unless the unrealistic claim is the deadline, where he completes it exactly one day ahead of schedule.

More and more I am falling into the conspiracy theory that Musk is a time traveler. Like he just knew to make the bet in the one situation he would succeed.

I know a lot of people here don't like him, but I personally think he is actually trying to make the world a better place and mostly being successful. Sure there were other electric cars before the Tesla, but no one gave a shit about them. Solar panels have been around for a long time, but suddenly now people are talking about them. He is leading the 21st century charge to space. His technology might not totally be successful, but I think that he is changing society mostly for the better by getting the average person to get excited about this stuff.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:58 AM on December 2 [6 favorites]


Why not?

Because it's wasteful, gauche, revolutionary french aristocrat crap


Is it wasteful? They need to run a test. It's a really big test. The test of the first rocket of it's class will not be carrying any significant payload, any satellite is just expensive to be sent on a test run. The test run will need some kind of weight to validate the test. So a block of steel or rock? So if it's a chunk of steel, why not get insane publicity? Sounds crazy but is utterly rational and calculated.
posted by sammyo at 6:17 AM on December 2 [10 favorites]


If he had just launched a scientific experiment, would it make the TV news?

If it were disguised as a Tesla S, it would ...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:38 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


The fact that some people are defending this let-them-eat-cake bullshit is exactly why humanity is utterly, unredeemably fucked.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:56 AM on December 2 [4 favorites]


"Wonder how many mars missions would have appreciated a free launch?"
This is a question with a very simple and easy answer, none of them. This is an untested rocket system that is indeed more likely than not to fail. Loading this thing with valuable scientific equipment would be a hideous waste of resources.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:07 AM on December 2 [10 favorites]


Best comment on Hacker News last night:

"Personally I think it would be funnier to put a Tesla into an eccentric comet-like solar orbit. That way future generations could train their telescopes upon the return of the... car."
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:16 AM on December 2 [4 favorites]


What would you rather was in the rocket? Falcon Heavy is to all intents and purposes a new launch vehicle; Musk himself has admitted that SpaceX radically underestimated the amount of redesign work that would be needed beyond just strapping three Falcon 9 first stages together (which is why this launch has slipped from 2013) and is frank about it having only a moderate chance of getting into orbit. On that basis, nobody is going to put a real payload on top - memories of Ariane 5's inaugural flight and the loss of the four Cluster spaceprobes are still vivid, 22 years on.

In the past this issue has been dealt with by flying a big chunk of aluminium or a tank of water. (You don't want no payload at all; part of the point is to prove that the Falcon 9 can haul a certain amount of mass into space). Any other launcher manufacturer doing this would probably have commissioned a large lump of concrete. But this is SpaceX, and Elon Musk gets to decide what flies, and if he wants to get publicity, that's his business.

In short: this test flight was going to happen anyway, and it was never going to be used for a 'real' payload.
posted by Major Clanger at 7:17 AM on December 2 [14 favorites]


Actually, if Must is going to do this I have one suggestion to take this to the next level: put a crash test dummy in the driver's seat, dressed as The Stig.
posted by Major Clanger at 7:37 AM on December 2 [12 favorites]


Other silly items Musk considered putting in his rocket:

* 1980s Krugerrands
* "Fearless Girl" (the statue of the little girl facing the Wall Street bull)
* DeLorean DMC-12
* Honus Wagner baseball card
* Action Comics #1 in mint condition
* "For the Love of God", Damien Hirst's platinum cast of an 18th-century human skull encrusted with 8,601 flawless diamonds
posted by Omon Ra at 8:02 AM on December 2 [3 favorites]


So, after a few cursory web searches it appears that a commercial communication satellite at the low-ball end of the scale might cost on the order of $5 million. One might imagine that cutting all the corners maybe a guy like Musk could have his engineers bang something out for a tenth that, assuming that failure of the rocket or the satellite was not unexpected. That puts us in the neighborhood of the cost of a Tesla roadster.
posted by Reverend John at 9:08 AM on December 2


Well, you know, the thing will have instruments and telemetry on the off chance that it works. I'm sure there is a thing or two Musk would like to learn about Mars.
posted by sjswitzer at 9:18 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


I find that totally believable, but I RTFA, and didn't see that. So [citation needed].
posted by Reverend John at 9:30 AM on December 2


Cameras at least
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 9:33 AM on December 2


Our Powerwall is working well. It gives us nearly a day of electricity during our frequent outages.
posted by doctornemo at 9:36 AM on December 2


Because it's wasteful, gauche, revolutionary french aristocrat crap at a time when the rich are working hard to permenantly impoverish the rest of us and we are therefore not in the mood for that crap?

How is this different than pretty much all space exploration up to this point? The only reason it ever happened in any significant way is because of that giant pissing contest here on Earth between commies and freedum lovers. And the only reason the rest of us were in the mood for that crap was that we were the french aristocrats in that arrangement, and in return we got to fantasize about a future strolling around in domed Mars habitations, eating food pills in unisex bodysuits. Was it better because we had noble intentions? Because we got to have a hand in the wasteful, gauche, revolutionary french aristocrat crap instead of leaving that joy to billionaires?
posted by 2N2222 at 9:37 AM on December 2 [4 favorites]


Yes, it was a little better.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:39 AM on December 2


...at the low-ball end of the scale might cost on the order of $5 million. One might imagine that cutting all the corners maybe a guy like Musk could have his engineers bang something out for a tenth that...

You can pick up a used Tesla roadster an order of magnitude cheaper than your estimate. Musk's personal roadster may hold slightly higher value to a collector, but still nowhere near the cost of a satellite.
posted by borkencode at 9:55 AM on December 2


Because it's wasteful, gauche, revolutionary french aristocrat crap

It's hard to get people to appreciate the difficulty and importance of publicity work.

That roadster isn't useless or pointless, it is fulfilling a very real purpose.
posted by AlSweigart at 10:08 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


...of getting us to tell Elon to go fuck himself.
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on December 2 [2 favorites]


The only reason it ever happened in any significant way is because of that giant pissing contest

I know there is a huge amount of truth to this reasoning and if it gets our small weak yet somewhat intelligent and not always evil species off the planet before a catastrophic event, then good for the cold war. But there is actually more, and that's science. Perhaps it all would have happened a bit slower in a peaceful world, but all the missions have really great rational behind each and have grown the body of knowledge which has improved the lives of the many.
posted by sammyo at 11:19 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


Wow, why the Elon Musk hate?
posted by floam at 11:38 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


Because rich assholes and their stupid toys just screwed over our entire country not 12 hours ago. Guillotines for the rich, high-velocity interceptors for their space trash.
posted by chortly at 12:01 PM on December 2 [8 favorites]


Sun-laser should do the job.
posted by Artw at 12:02 PM on December 2


You can test the rocket without a payload, you know. Probably wastes a few tons less fuel that way. We all breathe the same atmosphere, perhaps a bit less hydrocarbon emissions would be reasonable.
posted by Existential Dread at 12:21 PM on December 2


Sounds like he backed down or it was all just a joke. Either way, advertising accomplished.
posted by chortly at 12:42 PM on December 2


put a crash test dummy in the driver's seat, dressed as The Stig.

Trying to send Busto to the sunchips place is a very risky proposition.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:38 PM on December 2 [1 favorite]


You can test the rocket without a payload, you know.
Not if they want those sweet sweet USAF contracts. This is a demo launch to show they have the delta v to do the weirdo orbits the .gov wants. That's also why they're launching with a fairing rather than (eg) chucking a dragon round the moon.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 3:46 PM on December 2 [1 favorite]


The Verge has now called double fake news on themselves, i.e. the automobile is indeed going to space. Feast yourselves on this twisty paragraph:
But confirmation followed a bizarre exchange between The Verge and Musk. After Musk tweeted the plan, we asked him to confirm that it was real. Musk replied to us first by email, confirming that it was real. Then, after The Verge published a story about the plan, Musk sent us a response in a direct message on Twitter saying he “totally made it up.” We now know that response was false; a person familiar with the matter told The Verge Saturday evening that the payload is in fact real.
A Twitter user I read online speculated that "made it up" referred to Musk conceiving the idea himself; A Reddit user I read online thought it was just sarcasm. The Verge has not released the unredacted original communications that we might judge for ourselves.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:21 PM on December 2


Just some things to note, I guess.

1) The next minimum energy launch window to Mars doesn't open until like April.
2) A Falcon upper stage is battery powered and will function for, at most, a day or two before they it runs out of power and dies. (Ignoring all other deep space tracking, communications, and thermal problems.)
3) That means you can't do mid-course trajectory corrections.
4) That means Mars is basically impossible to hit.
5) It also means you can't go into orbit around Mars because, to do so, you've got to slow down once you get there. Otherwise conservation of energy says you'll dip down into the gravity field and fly right back out again. (Yes, I know aerobraking exists but it's a non-starter here for obvious reasons.)

So if Musk wants to fling a car into space as a publicity stunt, have fun with that, but I can promise that it's not going to Mars.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:02 PM on December 2 [2 favorites]


One of the coolest things about the shuttle programs, Mars rover programs, and SpaceX missions is how they are just outright inspiring. Science made cool. Like a stimulus package for wonderment, showing that damnit, people can do awesome things when they get together with a common purpose.

I want a "space" program for here on Earth too. We look eagerly outward to space but fail to take care of our own. If the 1% were to pool their wealth together for such a program, they could give $100,000 to each man, woman, child, and Animorph in the USA. People could do awesome things with that too. The problem is it's not Rocket Science and there's no publicity for Cool Rocket Guy.
posted by hexaflexagon at 9:44 PM on December 2


Can the car even reasonably survive the forces of a launch? If bits of the car shift around during the launch, that's not going to be great for the rocket's ability to stay pointed upward.
posted by schmod at 8:18 AM on December 3


Yes, a car's bits will remain in place at 4G. Just don't leave any change in the cup holder or unsecured items in the glove box, as they will develop quite a bit of relative velocity before hitting whatever it is that is rushing up to meet them.

Crash forces are much higher, yet aside from the parts involved in the impact, they all remain in place despite the rapid deceleration. If they didn't, the car couldn't be sold in the first place. ;)
posted by wierdo at 11:25 AM on December 3 [1 favorite]


Who does this hurt? No one.

The valet who has to go get it.
posted by srboisvert at 1:15 PM on December 3




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