From the same pad where NASA launched rockets that carried astronauts to the moon, the Falcon Heavy arced into space.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US on  February 6, 2018.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US on February 6, 2018. (Reuters)

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.

A red Tesla Roadster is seen during preparations to use it as a mock payload for the launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US on December 6, 2017.
A red Tesla Roadster is seen during preparations to use it as a mock payload for the launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US on December 6, 2017. (Reuters)

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 SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 6, 2018.
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 6, 2018. (AFP)

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.

Spectators at Cocoa Beach watch SpaceX's first Falcon Heavy rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, US on February 6, 2018.
Spectators at Cocoa Beach watch SpaceX's first Falcon Heavy rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, US on February 6, 2018. (Reuters)

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."

SpaceX founder Elon Musk speaks at a press conference following the first launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US, February 6, 2018.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk speaks at a press conference following the first launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US, February 6, 2018. (Reuters)

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.

This still image taken from a SpaceX livestream video shows
This still image taken from a SpaceX livestream video shows "Starman" sitting in SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's cherry red Tesla roadster after the Falcon Heavy rocket delivered it into orbit around the Earth on February 6, 2018. (AFP)

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."

The world's most powerful rocket, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, blasted off  on its highly anticipated maiden test flight, carrying CEO Elon Musk's cherry red Tesla roadster to an orbit near Mars on February 06, 2018.
The world's most powerful rocket, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, blasted off on its highly anticipated maiden test flight, carrying CEO Elon Musk's cherry red Tesla roadster to an orbit near Mars on February 06, 2018. (AFP)

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.

Source: AFP