In February, SpaceX's Elon Musk successfully launched one of the biggest – and most powerful – spacecrafts the world has ever seen: the Falcon Heavy rocket.
"I feel giddy and happy, actually," Musk commented ahead of the inaugural flight on Feb. 6. "I’m super-confident we’ve done everything we can to achieve maximum success of this mission.”
When the Heavy lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it became the most powerful operating rocket in the world "by a factor of two," SpaceX said.
"The test launch of the Falcon Heavy is a spectacular demonstration of the comeback of Florida’s Space Coast and of the U.S. commercial launch sector, which is succeeding in a big way," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), a top Democrat of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the nation’s space program. “That’s good news for the civil space program. It's good news for national security. It's good news for employment in the U.S. and it's great news for jobs and the economy."
Musk is already looking forward to creating SpaceX's next monster rocket, known as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), to replace both the Falcon 9 and Heavy – but before he does, take a look back at the three rockets that have made history.
It’s called “Heavy” for a reason.
The total mass of the Falcon Heavy, which Musk dubs the “most powerful operational rocket in the world" and a total "beast," is 3.1 million pounds.
“With the ability to lift into orbit nearly [141,000 pounds] – a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel – Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy,” according to SpaceX.
The Falcon Heavy has three first-stage boosters, strapped together with 27 engines in all. Stretching 40 feet at the base and standing 230 feet tall, the Heavy is a triple dose of the Falcon 9, the company's frequent flyer that has just a single booster.
At liftoff, the Heavy packs about 5 million pounds of thrust. That's about the equivalent to 18 Boeing 747 aircrafts, SpaceX notes.
In a historic move, Musk, who also runs electric vehicle maker Tesla, placed his cherry Tesla Roadster on the Heavy's maiden flight. No car has ever rocketed into space before, if you don't count NASA's Apollo-era moon buggies.
Musk plans to eventually use the Heavy to hoist humans, super-sized satellites and other heavy equipment into space. And, one day, he hopes to witness it carry crews of astronauts to the moon, Mars and beyond.
"In expendable mode, Falcon Heavy can send a fully loaded Dragon to Mars or a light Dragon to Jupiter's moons," Musk tweeted in September 2015. "Europa mission [would] be cool."
During the South by South West (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, in March, Musk told a crowd he enivisions test flights of a Mars spacecraft next year. The rocket ship expected to make it to the Red Planet is the BFR, which will have an updated design over the Heavy, with a single system containing one booster and one ship.
Musk, however, cautioned early trips to Mars could result in death.
“For the early people that go to Mars, it will be far more dangerous. It kind of reads like (Ernest) Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers: Difficult, dangerous, good chance you’ll die," Musk said. "Excitement for those who survive.”
Falcon Heavy by the numbers:
Height: 229.6 feet
Width: 39.9 feet
Weight: 3,125,735 pounds
Price: $90 million
The Falcon 9, named for its nine engines, is much smaller than the Falcon Heavy. The two-stage rocket, which made its debut in June 2010, was designed to carry satellites and the Dragon (see below) cargo capsule safely into orbit.
On Dec. 23, 2008, SpaceX was awarded a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, agreeing to make 12 cargo trips to the International Space Station (ISS).
One of Falcon 9's best qualities is its affordability. The reusable spacecraft was designed for "maximum reliability."
"Falcon 9’s simple two-stage configuration minimizes the number of separation events," SpaceX explains. "And it can safely complete its mission even in the event of an engine shutdown."
Falcon 9 by the numbers:
Height: 229.6 feet
Diameter: 12 feet
Weight: 1,207,920 pounds
Price: $62 million
The Dragon rocket is the smallest spacecraft of the bunch. It was designed to make cargo runs.
In fact, in the Dragon capsule made history in 2012. It became the first commercial aircraft to ever deliver cargo to the ISS and succesfully make a return trip to Earth.
However, SpaceX engineers are making improvements to the rocket so it can eventually carry more than just cargo.
"Under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is now developing the refinements that will enable Dragon to fly crew," SpaceX says. "Dragon's first manned test flight is expected to take place as early as 2018."
Dragon by the numbers:
Height: 23.6 feet
Diameter: 12 feet
Weight: 13, 228 pounds
Price: Not listed
The Associated Press contributed to this report.