On Tuesday, SpaceX made history with the successful flight of the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world. I was on site to watch it happen and it looked pretty real to me, but not everyone was convinced. Even SpaceX CEO Elon Musk acknowledged how fake the whole thing seemed.
“You can tell it’s real because it looks so fake,” Musk said at a press conference after the launch. “We’d have way better CGI if it was fake.”
Still, in a time-honored tradition that dates back to the moon landings, conspiracies about what really happened on the Falcon Heavy flight abound. I dove down the rabbit hole inhabited by SpaceX truthers to find out how the wool could’ve been pulled over my eyes.
THEORY: ELON MUSK COMMITTED THE PERFECT MURDER
Alright so let’s look at the facts: We have an eccentric billionaire determined to colonize other planets. Said billionaire has created the most powerful operational rocket in the world. At the last minute, the billionaire announces that his own personal car, loaded with a dummy pilot, will be placed on top of the rocket and launched into a billion-year orbit around the sun. No one at SpaceX apparently knew about the plan to launch the car and dummy pilot before the billionaire tweeted it out. Something doesn’t add up.
This sounds like a caricature of an early-franchise Bond villain because on some level Musk is a caricature of an early-franchise Bond villain, but the circumstances surrounding the launch had some asking: Did Elon Musk just commit the perfect murder?
In a popular post on the Shower Thoughts subreddit, user ‘halo3kings’ suggested that Musk got away with the perfect murder by sending a body to Mars. Musk said the spacesuit didn’t contain any sensors, which is kinda fishy—wouldn’t you want to get some data about how the suit performs in the empty vacuum of space?
Probably, unless that suit contained a human body. A more gruesome variant of the conspiracy theory claims that someone is drugged and alive in the suit, adding a dark irony to the ‘Don’t Panic’ sign on the car’s dash. But what about the car itself? Was Musk involved in a hit and run and needed to dump the evidence? Are there still more bodies in the trunk?! I guess we’ll never know….
THEORY: THE ROADSTER DEPLOYMENT NEVER HAPPENED
A quick trawl through the #FakeX hashtag on Twitter and YouTube will yield dozens of theories about how the deployment of Musk’s Tesla roadster into interplanetary space never happened. Compared to the murder theory, these theories are a bit more banal and tend to crop up around most SpaceX/NASA launches. Of course, there’s the omnipresent theory that the whole thing was CGI and that the flash as the payload was released into space was actually an accidental camera flash at a CGI studio.
Then there’s the Flat Earth narrative about how no stars or satellites can be seen in the background of the video. There’s a good reason for this (most satellites are no larger than a car and would be very hard to see across thousands of miles of empty space, and the brightness of the Earth makes it difficult to see stars), but Flat Earthers and their ilk have never been a group to let a little science get in their way.
Finally, there’s the conspiracy centered on the car, which apparently should be melting in space. Musk himself said at a post-launch press conference that no modifications were made to the car to prepare it for launch, so shouldn’t the harsh space environment take a serious toll on the roadster? Conspiracy theorists point to the fact that bare metal can get as hot as 260 Celsius from direct exposure to the Sun, so the Tesla should be melting into a blob. This theory smacks of the 9/11 “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” conspiracies, but the problem is that steel and iron have melting points well above 1000 C and are certainly higher than what the Tesla will encounter in space.
So while it’s hard to believe that a billionaire really did launch his personal hot rod into space, this appears to be another instance where the truth really is stranger than fiction.