KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — From the same pad where NASA launched rockets that carried astronauts to the moon, a big, new American rocket arced into space on Tuesday. But this time, NASA was not involved. The rocket, the Falcon Heavy, was built by SpaceX, the company founded and run by the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
“It seems surreal to me,” Mr. Musk said during a news conference after the launch.
The launch of this turbocharged version of the workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, which has been carrying cargo to space for years, marks an important milestone in spaceflight, the first time a rocket this powerful has been sent into space by a private company rather than a government space agency.
The rocket carried a playful payload: Mr. Musk’s red Roadster, an electric sports car built by his other company, Tesla. Strapped inside the car is a mannequin wearing one of SpaceX’s spacesuits. They are expected to orbit the sun for hundreds of millions of years.
“It’s kind of silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important,” Mr. Musk said.
The success gives SpaceX momentum to begin developing even larger rockets, which could help fulfill Mr. Musk’s dream of sending people to Mars. To do that, he has described a new-generation rocket called B.F.R. (the B stands for big; the R for rocket) that might be ready to launch in the mid-2020s.
The near-flawless performance of the Heavy on Tuesday “gives me a lot of confidence we can make the B.F.R. design work,” Mr. Musk said.