Four years ago this week, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful operational rocket, launched from Florida and tore into space, carrying nothing but Elon Musk’s personal Tesla roadster.
The cherry red sports car — driven by a spacesuit-clad mannequin nicknamed “Starman” — is still orbiting the sun, taking a lonely, oblong orbital route that takes it as far as Mars’ orbit and as close as Earth’s orbit at times.
The automobile isn’t on a scientific expedition. SpaceX needed a dummy payload for this test launch, and Musk previously stated that he intended it to be the “silliest thing we can imagine.” As a result, he chose his own high-end Tesla roadster.
According to the tracking website whereisroadster, which uses NASA’s data to maintain track of the automobile, the roadster was around 234 million miles from Earth and roughly 200 million miles from Mars as of Monday, crossing through a no-land man’s of deep space.
According to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the roadster is more than likely still intact, but it has likely been damaged by meteoroids throughout its journey across space.
According to the website, the roadster has gone about 2 billion miles and performed around 2.6 laps around the sun in the last four years, primarily through a desolate, empty vacuum.
However, it will occasionally approach other celestial objects. The spaceship made its closest approach to Mars in 2020, travelling within 5 million miles of the planet — roughly 20 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
According to NASA, the roadster won’t get close to another planet until 2035, when it will pass by Mars once more. In 2047 and 2050, it will make two passes within a few million kilometres of Earth.
According to one research publication, the chances of the automobile colliding with the Earth within the next 15 million years are roughly 22%. The chances of it colliding with Venus or the Sun are each 12 %.
Hanno Rein, an astrophysics professor at the University of Toronto who co-authored the research, told CNN Business that those aren’t extremely high probability.
It’s difficult to forecast exactly what direction the Tesla will take because of the complicated and unpredictable aspects of space travel. Astronomers aren’t interested in focusing their high-powered telescopes in the direction of the roadster’s journey because there isn’t much scientific value in examining it, according to Rein. The roadster was last seen in March 2018, roughly a month after it was released, according to Rein.
If the automobile does end up colliding with Earth, you can only pray it is ripped to shreds when it smacks into the planet’s thick atmosphere. (Spacecraft colliding with Earth are fairly common, and most of them burn up in the atmosphere upon impact.) Such impacts are uncommon in inhabited areas.)
The roadster’s ultimate destiny is unlikely to be known for millions of years. Musk, for one, stated in 2018 that he expects humanity will have built settlements on other planets in the solar system by the time his “descendants will be able to drag [the roadster] back to a museum.”