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Starman in sports car
A closeup shows the spacesuit-clad figure sitting in a Tesla Roadster that’s destined to be launched into deep space. (SpaceX Photo via Instagram / Elon Musk)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — When SpaceX launches a Tesla Roadster sports car into deep space atop its very first Falcon Heavy rocket, the driver’s seat won’t be empty.

The company’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, posted a photo on Instagram overnight showing the Roadster in its payload adapter, as he did in December, but this time with a figure clad in a SpaceX spacesuit added to the mix.

“Starman in red Roadster,” said Musk, referring to the David Bowie song that goes, “There’s a Starman, waiting in the sky….”

We can only assume that the figure is a mannequin, destined to be sent out with the car as far as the orbit of Mars when the Falcon Heavy lifts off as early as Tuesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. And it looks as if there are a couple of cameras mounted on the surrounding frame, pointed in the Starman’s direction.

Starman in Red Roadster

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

The “Starman” touch is in keeping with Musk’s Bowie theme, which also includes the promise that the late rocker’s “Space Oddity” will be playing for the launch.

Why do all this? Musk said he wanted to launch the “silliest thing we can imagine” on this first test mission, and the idea of having an astronaut mannequin orbiting the sun for billions of years certainly raises the silliness quotient.

Read more: Jeff Bezos wishes Elon Musk’s SpaceX ‘best of luck’ with Falcon Heavy

And why not? The Falcon Heavy is designed to be the world’s most powerful operational rocket, with liftoff thrust of 5 million pounds, and that carries a significant amount of risk. Rather than imperiling an expensive payload, SpaceX is aiming to use the Roadster as an expendable “mass simulator” — as described in the license that the Federal Aviation Administration issued for the launch.

If the rocket blows up, Musk will count himself lucky if all he loses is a used car with a mannequin in the driver’s seat.

“There’s a lot of risk associated with the Falcon Heavy, a real good chance that that vehicle does not make it to orbit,” he said last year. “I want to make sure I set expectations accordingly. I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage, I would consider even that a win, to be honest.”

And just in case, the FAA license specifies that SpaceX is carrying liability insurance policies for as much as $110 million in the event of damage to NASA’s historic launch pad, where Apollo moon rockets and space shuttles have taken off over the course of the past half-century.

Musk has been posting about much more than Starman over the past couple of days. Here’s a selection from Twitter and Instagram to catch you up in advance of the big day:

Mars Awaits

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

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