“Space. The final frontier. For humankind, and also my manhood.” -Elon Musk
“What generation am I?” As amazing as the Internet is, I can’t seem to find a definitive answer to this question. Depending on who I ask and where I search, I seem to be at the tail end of “Xennials” and grazing the beginnings of “Generation Y,” “Generation Next” (thanks, Pepsi), and the eternally scorned “Millenials.” I’d really prefer any of the latter three compared to “Xennails,” as I’m pretty sure THAT is some kind of fake fingernail appliqué technology sold on Lifetime around the time the bars have been closed for an hour. However you define my “generation,” something incredible happened for it (and truly, the world) on Tuesday. Incredible, and absurd.
On Tuesday, SpaceX, a private company, not NASA, or a national government, successfully launched their “Falcon Heavy” rocket from Cape Canaveral. Falcon Heavy wasn’t funded by tax dollars, wasn’t part of any nation’s budget, nor did it carry a group of accomplished scientists or engineers. Its mission isn’t to explore, analyze, or figure out if a taco is a sandwich (it’s not, by the way). (A hot dog definitely is, though. – ed.) Falcon Heavy left our planet bound for what SpaceX says will be hundreds of millions of years of orbit around our sun. Its vaunted cargo is – wait for it – an electric car with a mannequin in a space suit sitting in the driver’s seat, and it was all paid for by a disgustingly rich man whose name I’ll get to in a minute, because that’s a turd that deserves a polish.
Let’s lamely (but accurately) summarize less than a century of human space initiatives. Our “final frontier” has gone from sending sacrificial monkeys into the upper atmosphere to unintentionally sacrificing human lives in attempts to further study what surrounds our planet. We landed on the moon and weaponized space before deeply researching a mission to Mars. Nations debated the sovereignty of orbital paths before eventually and essentially giving up and packing it in because humanity’s problems on Earth couldn’t possibly be tackled at the same time as literally reaching for the stars and chewing gum at the same time.
So here we are, 60 years after the launch of Sputnik, with an Access Hollywood President, the ability to watch the Super Bowl in color and high definition on a screen that fits in our pocket, and there are no planned advances in national space agendas. NASA has gone the way of Hypercolor shirts, Mars seems as achievable as an efficient and popular college football playoff system, and a man named Elon Musk has reached into his pocket to own the ultimate bachelor party story, and actually make history.
The fact that space is within the public reach (at least more so than it ever has been) is progress. It’s public! This is fact! Granted, it’s a given than nobody reading this has the pockets (or the balls) to send a rocket to orbit Sol as an ego boost so that some advanced alien species can stumble upon it thousands of years from now and have the same experience you and I have walking into a Hard Rock Casino. But it’s been done now. This is fact. Tuesday’s launch happened. Thanks, Elon Musk.
Elon Musk. Let’s finally get this out of the way, because I’m nothing if not superficial, but Elon Musk is the name of the cologne your grandmother buys you for Christmas as the “toss away” gift. The kind of cologne she saw at Macy’s and with eight seconds of consideration crossed you off her list. The kind of overpriced cologne that – we’ve all simultaneously suffered/appreciated Star Trek: Enterprise – smells like what would happen when a previously undiscovered species of feline Xindi had a month-long Zombie Burger bender and the results sat in a plastic box of gravel in your laundry room. Then it was flambéed. And covered in hobo urine. Bottled. Marketed during the holidays with bizarre and rambling television ads not unlike this column.
So let’s get back to it. On Tuesday space was privatized. In full and in action. Elon Musk actually sent a sports car into space to parade into orbit around our sun. It can’t be confirmed by SpaceX but I would imagine it has a giant pair of “truck nuts” hanging on it, because let’s be honest about this: Falcon Heavy’s launch did not benefit humanity. Elon Musk is bragging to any alien species that could possibly discover Tuesday’s efforts that he has a giant penis, and lots of money.
The launch is an absurd, extremely expensive joke. That said, it’s also a transition point for my generation, whatever that is, and certainly for generations to come.
Sure, we haven’t fully explored our oceans. But I have fonder memories and more inspiration in my life from the very worst Star Trek series than I do from “SeaQuest DSV.” There are more scientific mysteries and undiscovered wonders in our solar system than in all of our oceans. This is the basic understanding Neil deGrasse Tyson has while doing a bong rip in his underwear. It’s fact. So having memories of my 2nd grade class being dismissed because of the Challenger disaster, having absolute loathing in my heart for moon landing truthers, and watching a nation with crumbling bridges and a faulty school system that allowed both to fail because of money not had (or maybe better appropriated into unneeded military expansion), it says something that one oddly named man could put resources into an “achievement” such as this. I want to admire it. I want to hate it. But here we are. Where is the next generation getting their inspiration? The drive to explore? To know? Elon Musk? Okay, I guess.
Humanity is still reaching for the stars. We’re not doing so under a flag as some generations are used to, and Tuesday’s launch certainly wasn’t a collective of countries working together. Falcon Heavy’s launch was significant, but in opposing ways. Which version of history one focuses on can only be told by time, and by the generations ahead of us. I just hope they have better names than mine, and that the mannequin in the front seat of that electric car flying through space doesn’t smell like cat urine. Maybe Elon sprung for a pine tree air freshener, so that his orbiting ego museum wont reek enough that it will cause history to name him Earth’s first “Space bro.” Maybe instead the launch of Falcon Heavy will be laughed at, but remembered as the first stumbling step in the massive private AND public expansion of human space exploration. Uncontrolled by nations and dictators. Broadened by private citizens with golden toilet paper and not an American president with a golden toilet. J.J. Abrams, Brannon Braga, you and I, we will all wonder. But tonight Elon Musk leans over to the flavor of the night at his side and whispers “Hey, gurl. My car is circling the sun.”