Road Trip to Mars

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.

17 thoughts on “Road Trip to Mars

  1. Send a cat into space? Playing space oddity? With don’t panic on the dash? Awesome!!!!
    It was purely a test load, it had to be something out it would have been some junk.
    It’s not the first car to be launched into space though, it’s the third I think.
    It think it’s great how it’s fired imaginations.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It was a clever way to get everyone in the world to notice it. If Musk was running Apple, he’d’ve sent a computer into orbit; if he was running Paramount, he’d have a model of the Enterprise on the nose.

    Space shots are old hat, especially with everything we launch into orbit. Musk wants more of the Falcon Heavy: He wants it to take us back to the Moon, to Mars, and maybe even further. Now that everyone’s talking about it, he has the base for a conversation about the next steps.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I noticed too that a lot more people than normal knew about this launch. The car stunt itself didn’t bother me (my personal reaction was, “Uh, ok”), but the fact that this is what made a bunch of people take interest, did bother me. I fear anyone who thinks those people will stay interested after the car are headed for disappointment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re probably right about that. I don’t know. I guess at least this created the opportunity to educate people about space exploration, and even if the public’s attention shifts to other things, maybe some folks still learned something.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Given that the standard option for a test load on a first launch was likely a block of concrete, I thought this was a great idea. We need more public interest in space flight, and a “stunt” like this is a great way to celebrate!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. I didn’t know a block of concrete was the standard for these kinds of tests. Actually, the more I’ve learned about this, the better I feel about it being a car.


  5. I love that he sent the Tesla. Specifically. I like to think he sent it as a message “Hey, outer space. We know that you know we’re killing our planet with pollution, and you probably don’t want us doing that to our shared universe. We’re working on cutting that nastiness out of our tech, honest. Here’s proof.”

    Liked by 1 person

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