The convertible Elon Musk launched from the Cape is just one more piece of space junk, and at what cost? By one estimate, it was around $90 million. What could have been done with all that money Musk threw away for the ego-boosting publicity stunt of putting his car in space? He might have given it to the Democrats as they scramble to try and re-take the House and Senate from someone of questionable stability who currently holds the reigns of national power and is planning a big military parade in his honor. Similar to the parades that take place in North Korea and Moscow, with all those big rockets and tanks rumbling through the streets. All those troops forced to salute our fearless leader as they march by. Not that the struggle for the preservation of American Democracy matters more than a shiny new electric convertible floating around in space with a dummy at the wheel. Have you seen the photos? It’s so very cool, isn’t it? Almost as inspirational as our first moon shot with Apollo 11 in 1969? Remember that one? Men on the Moon? Remember? Did you know we’ve been there?
Under NASA, we would go to the Moon six times between 1969 and 1972. I’m old enough to remember, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t get too jazzed about someone shooting a car with a dummy in it into space. We seem to forget things, like our moon missions, and make the same mistakes over and over again. Like Vietnam and Afghanistan. And abandoning the X-15.
In 1962, we had the X-15 rocket plane taking us into space and then back again, and it was reusable. An aircraft that could be launched from the wing of a bomber, flying off into space and then coming back to Earth to land. It was a kind of mini Space Shuttle, but without the need for all the giant boosters and hoopla attached to the Shuttle program. A reusable space plane. And this was in 1962. And it was piloted by a human being, not a dummy.
Before it was over, eight American pilots would qualify as astronauts, piloting the X-15 above the 50 mile limit and into space. Why was the program abandoned for an Elon Musk-like rocket to shoot a monkey into space? Because Congress freaked out when the Russians put Sputnik in orbit. A small satellite that for the most part did nothing but transmit a beeping sound. However, the Russians had beaten us into space. The race was on and the X-15 forgotten, except for Tom Wolfe who memorialized the program with his book “The Right Stuff.”
Then there’s the thrust thing. Think of it as the oomph needed to get something beyond the Earth’s gravity and on its way to Mars, or wherever. Elon Musk’s “Falcon Heavy,” develops 5.1 million pounds of thrust. The Saturn V, which we abandoned in 1973, was capable of 7.6 million pounds. The Space Launch System, currently under development by NASA, comes in at 9.2 million pounds. So there’s that, too. But let’s get back to where we were before we started putting convertibles up there.
Our first real reusable X-15 space plane that had taken years to develop was abandoned in favor of a rocket with a monkey on board. Eventually we got back to a principle somewhat similar to the X-15 with the Space Shuttle. That too has now been abandoned in favor of putting a convertible in space. I may be missing something, but it feels like Groundhog Day all over again.
Then again, anything is possible. It is possible, for example, that the convertible will serve as the inspiration for putting humans on Mars. For taking us where no one has gone before. If so, my profound apologies to Mr. Musk. For now however, using history and tradition as my base, I remain a skeptic, and wonder where we are headed as a people when private funding and not a democratically elected government appears to be the principle force driving our future.
Forget Voyager. Our first contact could now happen on one fateful day when a spacecraft full of ET’s from another galaxy runs into a Tesla convertible with a dummy at the wheel.