“There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds.
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.”
Starman by David Bowie, 1972
Album: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
and the Spiders from Mars
There’s a whole new game in town as the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has re-energized the American spirit and put the world on notice that outer space is again our new frontier.
I was just three miles away for the historic Feb. 6th launch of the largest rocket in today’s world, standing in the shadow of the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) as Falcon Heavy roared to life on a hot, Florida afternoon.
To use an often overworked adjective, “Awesome” was certainly appropriate. And being in a VIP section of Kennedy Space Center with about 1,200 other people between the famed VAB and media buildings with the legendary countdown clock was truly an amazing blessing in my long life of stargazing and worshiping space heroes.
Thanks to my girlfriend, Anita Friend, a NASA contractor, and the presence of my brother, Craig Marquette, the historic launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy made it one of those life events I’ll never forget.
And what an event it was! Once the launch date was announced two weeks before, the Space Coast of East Central Florida became electrified with rocket fever that had not been seen since July 2011 when the last Space Shuttle Atlantis was launched. SpaceX capitalized on the moment with theatrical flair in a social media campaign that attracted more than 400 journalists and celebrities attending the inaugural Falcon Heavy launch. That included moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, Bill Nye the science guy, and a no-show by actor Harrison Ford—the “Falcon” comes from a Star Wars spaceship the Falcon Millennium.
To be on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center for such an historic voyage was true joy. The whole place had a circus atmosphere, everybody talking and entertaining themselves from entrance time at 11 am and through the more than 3-hour delay that lead to the 3:45 pm liftoff. The greatest show in rocketry was akin to the excitement of the Aug. 21st Great American Eclipse in 2017, including the usual traffic snarls on the main highways.
I know the historic spaceflight will linger on the memories of tens of millions of other Americans as we witnessed another technological achievement no other nation on Earth can match.
The roar of 27 rocket engines was tremendous. The beauty of a skyscraper flying off the Earth was exhilarating. And the simultaneous landing of not one, but two first stage rockets within eyesight of the empty launch pad was incredible to watch in person.
But what will be remembered by most people is the rocket payload, SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk’s own Tesla roadster, convertible top down with a mannequin named “Starman” behind the driver’s wheel. The live image from earth orbit slammed YouTube with the second most watched live event ever with 2.3 million (the Red Bull Stratus jump is first with a ridiculous 8 million). The spacey tunes of David Bowie played on the radio to the deaf ears of outer space until the all-battery-powered Tesla shut down.
After four hours in earth-orbit and the Tesla Roadster permanently strapped down, the third stage of the Falcon Heavy ignited again for a few minutes to reach an elliptical orbit around the Sun that reaches into the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The flashy red sports car has the space-suited “Starman” hanging his left arm on the door, gliding through the Solar System to a Bowie radio loop of space hits that have now transcended to interplanetary Pop Culture. The spooky Major Tom tales of “Space Oddity” and “Ashes to Ashes” as well as “Life on Mars” were played over the speakers, but not really heard as the vacuum of space won’t conduct sound—you need an atmosphere for that.
A sign on the $200,000 Tesla dashboard clearly says, “Don’t Panic.” More details about the luggage for the ultimate road trip include a Hot Wheels Tesla Roadster on the dash and a copy of novelist Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy” in the trunk.
Part 2 Next Week.