Ever since SpaceX made history by launching the Falcon Heavy into space with a red Tesla Roadster in the payload, the company and Elon Musk have come under a great deal of criticism. One source of this criticism has been from people who believe the footage showing the Starman dummy riding the Tesla in space was all CGI and fake. Some of this criticism originated from “flat earth” conspiracy theorists who still believe the Earth is flat and not round. The CGI in question actually has a simple explanation that debunks the claims that the Falcon Heavy launch was a scam. Here’s what you need to know.
One of the main reasons that people are pushing the narrative that the Falcon Heavy launch was fake revolves around video of the Starman riding in the Tesla Roadster in space. The complaint you might see on social media is that there was a moment in the livestream when it appears that the Tesla Roadster was in a studio and everything was just CGI. But this is actually an incorrect interpretation of that video. Here’s the video in question that people are talking about and sharing:
And here is one of the many memes and tweets circulating on social media about it:
But no, a CGI studio was not exposed during the Starman live stream. We were actually seeing the payload fairing that houses the Tesla opening for the first time. It wasn’t caught originally in the livestream, so they looped it into the Starman video later for effect. Here’s that moment in photos. No, this isn’t revealing a CGI studio. This is the payload fairing that housed the Roadster:
You can see it beginning to open, exposing the Roadster to space:
Opening more and getting brighter:
The cameras readjust to the sudden extreme light:
Yes, people are believing that everything was CGI and there was a brief moment when the livestreamed green screen messed up and revealed the studio. But that’s actually not what happened. This brief scene was a recording of the payload fairing, which housed the Tesla Roadster, opening and exposing the Tesla to space. Different images were spliced into the live stream throughout the video as it aired, including graphics showing the planned trajectory for the Starman and the Tesla. The video showing the fairing opening was also added to the stream, since it wasn’t shown originally.
Here’s a photo below from SpaceX, from before the launch, showing the Tesla loaded into the payload fairing. Yes, if you note, this looks exactly like that moment in the livestream. It’s not a CGI studio. SpaceX shared photos on Instagram before the launch of the Tesla Roadster mounted onto a modified satellite adapter, enclosed within the rocket’s payload fairing to protect the car during launch preps and the first part of the mission. After entering space, they always planned for the fairing to open and expose the car to space.
See how it looks just like that CGI moment? The “CGI studio” is actually the inside of the payload fairing. Here’s a photo from another angle:
Some people are also pointing out that the video of the Starman in space itself looks “fake.” But as Elon Musk himself mentioned during a press conference after the launch, it looks fake because of the way light is reflected in space versus how it’s reflected on the surface of the Earth. Light has much fewer objects to bounce off, leaving things looking different from space. He said: “I think it looks so ridiculous and impossible,” Musk said. “You can tell it’s real because it looks so fake, honestly. We’d have way better CGI if it was fake. The colors all look kind of weird in space. There’s no atmospheric occlusion; everything’s too crisp.”
Here’s what the Tesla Roadster looked like before it was added to the payload. Areas circled in red show where cameras were placed and why we had such great views of the car:
Some things did happen that weren’t quite according to the original plan. Animation released by SpaceX before the launch showed that the Tesla Roadster was going to separate from the final stage and float by itself in space. The animation also made it look like the Roadster was going to get a lot closer to Mars than it did. That didn’t happen.
Some people are also claiming the video is fake because there are no stars. There’s actually an explanation for this too, and it’s covered in quite a few publications. Cornell discusses the phenomenon of not seeing stars in photos and videos, after someone asked why photos taken in space by astronauts never show stars, even out of focus. Cornell’s website explains that you don’t see stars from photos in space because these photos lack “integration time.” You need a longer exposure time in order to reveal the stars. So yes, you can take photos and videos that show stars in space, but you have to really plan for it. Camera exposures on the moon, for example, were set to show crisp images of the lunar surface, not to show the stars. And the brightness of the Earth can interfere with seeing stars. Astronauts on the Moon said they could personally see brighter stars on the Moon if they stood in the shadow of the Lunar Module.
Finally, some people who don’t understand the original plans are saying that Musk’s tweet about the Tesla already heading to the asteroid belt is absurd because there was no way that the Tesla reached Mars already. That’s actually not what Musk was claiming, and the misunderstanding stems from some media sources who originally misunderstood the plans for the launch and shared erroneous information claiming the Tesla was going straight to Mars. SpaceX’s animation video prior to launch also made it look like the car was going to come a lot closer to Mars than it actually was. The plan was to launch the Tesla into a heliocentric orbit (an orbit around the sun) that would at a point in the future take it close to Mars. They overshot that planned orbit and now it will be carried near the asteroid belt instead.
“It’s just literally a normal car in space — I kind of like the absurdity of that,” Musk said during his press conference after the launch. “It’s kind of silly and fun, but I think that silly, fun things are important … I think the imagery of it is something that’s going to get people excited around the world, and it’s still tripping me out.
The Tesla has already been spotted in space. Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project and Michael Schwartz of the Tenagra Observatory observed the rocket payload in space. Here’s their explanation:
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.