Way back when I was just starting to teach myself this science stuff in order to improve my science fiction, I discovered Google Earth included, in addition to a highly detailed map of the whole Earth, highly detailed maps of the Moon and Mars. I’m told the program now includes even more worlds to explore: Pluto, Europa, Titan… I imagine there’ll be a whole Google Solar System soon enough.
Anyway, back in those early days of my sciency self-education, I was playing with Google Mars, trying to get a better feel for Martian geography, when a little window popped up asking if I’d like driving directions to the location I’d just clicked on. I’m sure you can imagine my reaction: “Oh, yes please!” But of course this was only a glitch or something, and all the “get directions” options were grayed out.
There’s just something whimsically delightful about the idea that you could hop in your car and drive to space, drive all the way to Mars if you want. Apparently I’m not the only person who thought so. I wonder if those “get directions” options would still be grayed out today, now that Elon Musk has sent one of his old cars on a Mars-ward orbital trajectory.
I realize some people were a bit peeved about the whole first car in space thing. How tacky. How wasteful. Who’s this crazy billionaire throwing his money away on a stunt like that? I get it. To be honest, I kind of agree, and I would’ve preferred it if SpaceX had used the Falcon Heavy’s first test flight to launch something more pragmatic, like a weather satellite or something. Maybe that was too risky, given that a lot of people (myself included) expected the Falcon Heavy to blow up on the launch pad. I don’t know.
But what’s done is done, and while I have mixed feelings about sending a car to space, I do enjoy the whimsy of it. Also, I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the last few weeks by how many people are still talking about the “space car,” and how many of my friends and co-workers have suddenly taken an interest in space, how many of them are asking me about Elon Musk and SpaceX and Mars exploration. I doubt that would have happened if SpaceX had launched a boring old weather satellite or something aboard the Falcon Heavy.
Anything that gets people talking about space and science is a win in my book, but what do you think? Was sending a car to space stupid and wasteful? Totally awesome? Or do you have mixed feelings about it, like I do?
Thanks to Simon for giving me the heads up about this: Musk’s Tessla Roadster is not, strictly speaking, the first car in space. Click here for more info.