SpaceX Set To Launch World's Most Powerful Rocket : The Two-Way The company is getting ready for the first flight of its massive Falcon Heavy. It will be the most powerful rocket in use — if it doesn't blow up.
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SpaceX Set To Launch World's Most Powerful Rocket

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SpaceX Set To Launch World's Most Powerful Rocket

SpaceX Set To Launch World's Most Powerful Rocket

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A rocket more powerful than any other flying today is set to blast off for the first time tomorrow afternoon if all goes well. The Falcon Heavy is a monster rocket from the company SpaceX. And as NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports, it's a step towards the company's goal of sending people to Mars.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: SpaceX founder Elon Musk wants humans to become Martians. In speeches, he is dead serious.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELON MUSK: The future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we're a spacefaring civilization and a multi-planet species than if we're not.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's why he created SpaceX - to drive down the cost of space flight. Its low, low launch prices have quickly attracted plenty of customers like satellite companies and the government. John Holst is the senior research analyst at the Space Foundation. He says it's been fun to watch an upstart like SpaceX rocket ahead.

JOHN HOLST: You know, last year - what was it? - 18 launches. So they captured about 20 percent of the global market. You know, if they were a country they'd actually have equaled China as far as launch numbers.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: All of those recent launches have been the company's workhorse rocket, the Falcon 9. But to go boldly where no one has gone before, SpaceX has been working on something bigger - the Falcon Heavy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUSK: This is a rocket of truly huge scale.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's how Elon Musk first introduced the Falcon Heavy to a group of reporters seven years ago. He said the behemoth was being designed to take a lot of mass to orbit, more than, say, a fully loaded Boeing 737 with passengers, luggage and fuel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUSK: That is really, really humongous. It's more payload capability in any vehicle in history apart from the Saturn 5.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: NASA's famous moon rocket. Musk showed a promotional video for the then-yet-to-be-built Falcon Heavy. A computer-generated image of a more than 200-foot-tall white rocket blasted off, trailing a white cloud of exhaust.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROCKET IGNITION)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: So when would this vision become reality? Oh, Musk said, sometime in 2013. Well, now it's 2018 and a Falcon Heavy is finally standing upright on a launch pad in Florida. The real rocket briefly fired its engines last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROCKET ENGINES FIRING)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: SpaceX released a video of it belching out a real white cloud. Musk called it quite a thunderhead of steam. He said the test results looked good. Coming up next is the launch.

LEROY CHIAO: It's exciting that he has built this rocket because it's clearly not for traditional commercial purposes of launching satellites. It's really for sending spacecraft farther away to the moon and, you know, as far as Mars.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Leroy Chiao is a former NASA astronaut who serves on a safety advisory council for SpaceX. He says if you want to launch a satellite...

CHIAO: You really don't need or want a rocket that big, the reason being satellites aren't that big. And so the only reason you'd need a rocket like that is to launch something far away, say, to Mars.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: This first flight will indeed send something out to deep space - a car. On Twitter, Musk said he's launching a cherry red electric sports car made by one of his other companies, Tesla. The car's speakers will play David Bowie's "Space Oddity." Musk wrote that his car will, quote, "be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn't blow up on ascent." Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPACE ODDITY")

DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) This is ground control to Major Tom. You've really the made the grade. And the papers want to know whose shirt you wear.

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