Melissa Velasquez Loaiza
New York (CNN Business) Four years ago this week, the world’s most powerful operational rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, made its maiden launch from Florida and shot into outer space carrying nothing but Elon’s personal Tesla roadster. Musk.
The cherry-red sports car, which is occupied by a spacesuit-clad mannequin dubbed “Starman,” is still outside, taking a lonely, oblong orbital path around the sun, traveling as far as the orbit of Mars and, at other times. , as close as the Earth’s orbit.
The car is not on a scientific trip. This was a test launch, so SpaceX needed a dummy payload, and Musk has previously said he wanted it to be “the dumbest thing we can imagine.” So he chose his own luxurious Tesla roadster.
As of Monday, the roadster was about 145 million miles from Earth and about 200 million miles from Mars, traversing a no man’s land in outer space, according to the tracking website whereisroadster.com, which uses data. of NASA to control the car.
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1 of 5 | SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket was launched for the first time this week, and this left us with several memorable moments. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images) 2 of 5 | Perhaps the most dramatic scene occurred about four minutes after liftoff: The rocket’s second stage, hurtling into deep space, jettisoned the white cone at the top and then revealed the cherry-red sports car of CEO Elon Musk. from SpaceX. (Photo by SpaceX via Getty Images) 3 of 5 | Behind the wheel appeared a mannequin dressed in a space suit, whom they called Starman. The car slid victoriously off Earth as David Bowie’s song “Life on Mars?” blasted through the launch’s online broadcast. (Photo by SpaceX via Getty Images) 4 of 5 | Starman and the Tesla car are still out there in space, where they will likely float for generations. (Photo by SpaceX via Getty Images) 5 of 5 | According to projections, the car will reach its furthest point from the sun in November. By September 2019, it will have completed its first cycle around the sun. After that, it will continue to complete one orbit around every 19 months. (Photo by SpaceX via Getty Images)
The roadster is more than likely still in one piece, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told CNN Business, but it was likely hit by some meteorites during its journey through the cosmos.
In the last four years, the roadster has traveled almost 3.2 million kilometers and has completed around 2.6 times around the Sun, mainly through a vacuum, according to the website.
But occasionally it will get quite close to other celestial objects. In 2020, the rover made its first close approach to Mars, passing within 8 million kilometers of the planet, or about 20 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
According to NASA data, the roadster is not likely to pass close to another planet until 2035, when it will graze Mars again. It will then make two passes within a few million kilometers of Earth in 2047 and 2050.
Elon Musk’s Tesla approaches Mars 1:22
The journey of Elon Musk’s Tesla
An academic paper estimated the chances of the car colliding with Earth within the next 15 million years to be around 22%. The chances of it crashing into Venus or the Sun are each 12%.
Those aren’t very high odds, Hanno Rein, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Toronto and a co-author of the paper, told CNN Business.
The complex and unpredictable realities of space travel make it difficult to predict exactly which path the Tesla will take. Rein said that because there isn’t much scientific value in studying the roadster’s trajectory, astronomers aren’t too interested in pointing their high-powered telescopes in its direction to collect more data. The roadster was last seen in March 2018, about a month after its launch, Rein said.
If the car ends up crashing into Earth, we’ll have to expect it to break into pieces when it crashes into Earth’s thick atmosphere. (Spaceborne objects hitting Earth are actually quite common, and usually burn up in the atmosphere during entry. They rarely impact populated areas.)
The ultimate fate of the roadster will probably not be known for many millions of years. But for his part, Musk said in 2018 that he hopes humans have already established settlements on other planets in the solar system, and that their descendants “may drag [el roadster] back to a museum.
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