From the same pad where NASA launched rockets that carried astronauts to the moon, the Falcon Heavy arced into space.
SpaceX's big new rocket blasted off on Tuesday on its first test flight, carrying a red sports car aiming for an endless road trip past Mars.
The Falcon Heavy rose from the same launch pad used by NASA nearly 50 years ago to send men to the moon. With liftoff, the Heavy became the most powerful rocket in use today, doubling the liftoff punch of its closest competitor.
The three boosters and 27 engines roared to life at Kennedy Space Center, as thousands watched from surrounding beaches, bridges and roads, jamming the highways in scenes unmatched since NASA's last space shuttle flight.
At SpaceX Mission Control in Southern California, employees screamed, whistled and raised pumped fists into the air as the launch commentators called off each milestone. Millions more watched online, making it the second biggest livestream in YouTube history.
Two of the boosters— both recycled from previous launches — returned minutes later for simultaneous, side-by-side touchdowns on land at Cape Canaveral. Sonic booms rumbled across the region with the vertical landings.
A few hours later, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk told reporters that the third booster, brand new, slammed into the Atlantic at 300 mph and missed the floating landing platform, scattering shrapnel all over the deck and knocking out two engines.
He was unfazed by the lost booster and said watching the other two land upright probably was the most exciting thing he's ever seen.
Before liftoff, "I had this image of just a giant explosion on the pad, a wheel bouncing down the road, the Tesla logo landing somewhere," he said. "But fortunately, that's not what happened."
Musk owns the rocketing Tesla Roadster, which is shooting for a solar orbit that will reach all the way to Mars. As head of the electric carmaker Tesla, he combined his passions to add a dramatic flair to the Heavy's long-awaited inaugural flight. Ballast for a rocket debut is usually concrete or steel slabs, or experiments.
Cameras mounted on the car fed stunning video of the convertible floating high above the ocean with its driver, a space-suited mannequin, named "Starman" after the Davie Bowie song. A sign on the dashboard read: "Don't panic!" Bowie's "Life on Mars?" played in the background at one point.
"View from SpaceX Launch Control," Musk wrote via Twitter. "Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth."
On the eve of the flight, Musk told reporters the company had done all it could to maximise success and he was at peace with whatever happens: success, "one big boom" or some other calamity.
Musk has plenty of experience with rocket accidents, from his original Falcon 1 test flights to his follow-up Falcon 9s, one of which exploded on a nearby pad during a 2016 ignition test.
The Falcon Heavy is a combination of three Falcon 9s, the rocket that the company uses to ship supplies to the International Space Station and lift satellites. SpaceX is reusing first-stage boosters to save on launch costs. Most other rocket makers discard their spent boosters in the ocean.
If it weathers all this, the Roadster will reach the vicinity of Mars in six months, Musk said. The car could be traveling between Earth and Mars' neighbourhoods for a billion years, according to the high-tech billionaire.