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Tesla Roadster
Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster is nestled within the payload shroud for a Falcon Heavy rocket. (Elon Musk via Instagram)

After a flurry of speculation, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is showing off his midnight cherry-red Tesla Roadster sports car as it’s being prepared for its ride atop a Falcon Heavy rocket.

Liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is currently set for next month, and if all goes as planned, the car will be put into a long, looping trajectory bridging the orbits of Earth and Mars.

“A Red Car for the Red Planet,” Musk wrote in the Instagram post that accompanied pictures of the car. Scroll down for the complete post:

From the start, Musk said he wanted to use the Falcon Heavy’s maiden launch to send the silliest thing he could think of into space. The goal was to outdo the Monty Pythonesque wheel of cheese that SpaceX included aboard the first flight of its Dragon cargo capsule.

Musk’s motivation isn’t completely frivolous: As he conceded in July, the first flight of the Falcon Heavy, bristling with 27 Merlin engines on its three-core booster, carries a significant chance of failure. “There’s a lot that could go wrong there,” he said.

Rather than putting someone else’s pricey payload on the rocket, Musk wanted to use what’s commonly known as a “mass simulator” — a test object that’s massive enough to stand in for the typical payload that the Falcon Heavy would carry. So why not make it memorable?

Musk chose his own red Roadster sports car, and will have it braced within the Falcon Heavy’s payload shroud for deployment after launch. Its trajectory would follow a stable “Hohmann transfer orbit” stretching out as far as Mars but requiring no additional propulsive push.

“I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future,” Musk explained in a tweet earlier this month.

As the cherry on the sports-car sundae, Musk wants to have David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” playing on the sound system as the Roadster goes into space. That’s not all: He’s already agreed to put a miniaturized edition of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy on board, and there are likely to be other goodies as well. Who knows … maybe even a wheel of cheese.

Postscript: Even before Musk posted his pictures, a bootlegged snapshot showing the Roadster perched atop the Falcon Heavy’s payload attach fitting made its way to several online forums, and was tweeted out. There was no way to verify that the photo was authentic last night, but based on the Roadster’s configuration as shown in Musk’s pictures, it looks as if the leaked version was legit.

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