It seemed like an absurd thing for Musk to announce, and many took it to be a joke. After all, why would he want to send an electric car into orbit around Mars? But, given that Musk doesn't expect that Falcon Heavy's first launch to be a resounding success, it's within reason that Musk wouldn't mind parting with what was Tesla's first ever production electric vehicle instead of putting a customer's valuable satellite payload atop the "World's Most Powerful Rocket".
For anyone that still thought that Musk was joking, he put those thoughts to rest today with a few images posted to Instagram. The images show the Roadster sitting solidly on top of an aerospace fitting, surrounded by the two-piece payload fairing. Given that Falcon Heavy can put up to 119,000 pounds of cargo into Earth's orbit, the 2,700-lb curb weight of the Roadster is trivial.
In his Instagram post, Musk wrote:
Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring. Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel. The payload will be an original Tesla Roadster, playing Space Oddity, on a billion year elliptic Mars orbit.
The first Falcon Heavy launch is scheduled to take place in January, after first being tipped for a November 2017 flight. Earlier his week, Musk posted three images of a near-complete Falcon Heavy resting in one of its hangers at Cape Canaveral. Falcon Heavy essentially consists of three Falcon 9 boosters strapped together, meaning that it has a total of 27 Merlin engines providing more than 5 million pounds of thrust at lift-off.
It should be noted that all three boosters as capable of making a controlled landing back to Earth, after which they will be refurbished for future missions (just like the current Falcon 9).