Falcon Heavy Launch: A Homeschooler’s Guide and What to Expect

Falcon heavy Launch Homeschooler's Guide
Credit: SpaceX/Flickr

One of the great things about homeschooling is that we can break away from our routine and take advantage of teachable moments. The Falcon Heavy Launch happening today is a great opportunity for homeschoolers to use as a teachable moment.

Falcon Heavy will be launching from a historic launchpad: 39A in Cape Canaveral. This is the same launch pad that sent men to the moon. One day, men and women may go to the moon or Mars from this same location.

Lift-off is scheduled for 3:45 PM, EST and will be streamed online via YouTube for the whole world to see. So what should you expect?

Note: this article was updated to include the new launch time. Launch time may change throughout the day.

Falcon Heavy Launch – What to Expect

First, note the size of this rocket. It’s actually three rockets strapped together! Standing at 230 feet, it’s the most powerful rocket ever launched. Falcon Heavy has 27 engines for carrying payloads of up to 37,000 lbs. into space. For more details on the rocket, you can read the SpaceX Press Kit.

Second, the cargo is very unique. The maiden voyage of the Falcon Heavy will be carrying a Tesla Roadster. Normally test flights have dead weight in them but SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, decided that was too “boring” and put his own electric car in the rocket.

Falcon Heavy Launch Homeschooler's Guide
Credit: SpaceX/Flickr

Instead of putting a standard “mass simulator” or dummy payload atop Falcon Heavy, Musk — who once launched a wheel of cheese into orbit — will put his personal 2008 midnight-cherry-red Tesla Roadster on top of the monster rocket.

In an Instagram post over the weekend, Musk also revealed that the car would carry a dummy driver, which Musk is calling “Starman,” wearing a SpaceX space suit. —Dave Mosher/Business Insider

Third, you’ll want to discuss where the Tesla is going. This isn’t a simple trip around the earth and back. It’s being sent on a path that will take it close to Mars.

For the first Falcon Heavy flight, SpaceX is going to try to launch it to orbit without blowing up. This is a demonstration mission, meant to see if the Falcon Heavy can simply send a payload to orbit. That’s why the rocket’s cargo is pretty silly: it’s Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster, made even sillier with the possible inclusion of a dummy in the passenger seat, dressed in a brand-new SpaceX suit, naturally. The Falcon Heavy is supposed to put the car (as well as the passenger, presumably) into an orbit around the Sun known as a Hohmann transfer orbit. This path will take the car as far out from the Sun as the distance of Mars’ orbit. However, the car won’t be going anywhere near Mars, so there’s no risk of the car contaminating the planet with Earth microbes. —Loren Grush/The Verge

Fourth, what happens if this test fails? Elon Musk has said he gives this launch a 50/50 chance of success. If it fails, discuss with your kids what SpaceX can learn from the failure? What changes might they make for future missions?

There’s a lot more that can be discussed during and after this event. You can talk about the history of the launch pad. How rockets make it into orbit. You can even talk about how long it would take you to drive to Mars in your car (or minivan).

I hope this little article encourages you to watch the launch and it ignites your kids’ imaginations! Let me know in the comments below if you’re planning to watch it. If you watched it, how did your kids react?.

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