SpaceX’s new rocket the Falcon Heavy has blasted off on its first test flight, carrying a red sports car on an endless road trip past Mars.
The rocket rose from the same Florida 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.
The three boosters and 27 engines roared to life at Kennedy Space Centre, where thousands gathered to watch the launch, which had been delayed by high wind.
Two of the boosters are recycled and programmed to return for another touchdown on land.
The third is new and has its sights on an ocean platform.
SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk owns the rocketing Tesla Roadster, which is aiming for a solar orbit reaching 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. Typical ballast for a rocket debut is usually concrete or steel slabs, or experiments.
Cameras fed stunning live video of the convertible floating high above the ocean with its driver, a space-suited dummy, named Starman after the David Bowie song.
A sign on the dashboard read: “Don’t panic!” and Bowie’s Life On Mars? played in the background.
On the eve of the flight, Mr Musk said 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.
He 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.
The Heavy is intended for massive satellites, like those used by the US military and major-league communication companies. Even before the test flight, customers were signed up.