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“The Space isn’t remote at all, it’s an hour drive away if your car could go straight upwards” Fred Hoyle
No Jokes! There is a car in Space and it’s been there since February 2018- more than two years ago! Big deal!
It’s a cherry-red colored electric sports car drifting in space along with all the space junk and human-made objects which no longer serve any useful function. These includes non-functional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris and fragmentation debris. All counted amongst the 20,000 artificial objects in orbit above the Earth!
And this is not to mention the comets, asteroids, or meteoroids that originated in outer space moving at tremendous speed, all contributing to a kaleidoscope of a cluttered space.
The car named the Roadster, became the first standard roadworthy vehicle sent into space and has completed its first orbit around the sun in August 2019 with a sole occupant positioned in the driver’s seat nicknamed “Starman”.
Starman is not human though, it is a full-sized human mannequin clad in a SpaceX pressure spacesuit seated with the right hand on the steering wheel and the left elbow resting on the open window sill.
What an interesting sight for extraterrestrials to glean!
Trivia – the car’s sound system continues to play in an endless loop, the Bowie song “Space Oddity”.
If the battery was still working, Starman has listened to Space Oddity 215,781 times since he launched in one ear, and “to Is there Life On Mars?” 290,756 times in his other ear.
There is also copy of Douglas Adams’ novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the glovebox, along with references to the book in the form of a towel and a sign on the dashboard that reads “DON’T PANIC!”
What is a car doing up in space?
First off, let’s start with who owns the car- The Roadster?
SpaceX, a company owned by Elon Musk had been developing a space rocket for many years. The rocket named The Falcon Heavy, is a partially reusable super heavy-lift launch vehicle designed to have the highest payload capacity of any currently operational launch vehicle and the second-highest capacity of any rocket ever to reach orbit.
The Roadster is a 2008 Tesla Model electric vehicle owned and driven as a personal car to work by Elon Musk.
In March 2017, Musk announced that because the launch of the new Falcon Heavy vehicle was risky, it would carry the “silliest thing we can imagine”.
In June 2017, it is reported that one of his Twitter followers suggested that the silly thing be a Tesla Model S, to which Musk replied “Suggestions welcome!”
In December 2017, he announced that the payload would be his personal “midnight cherry Tesla Roadster”
The car and rocket are products of Tesla and SpaceX, respectively, both companies founded by him.
What purpose will this serve?
For all intent and purpose, the “stunt” was a shrewd marketing move by Musk as it drew worldwide attention to the sustainable goals of his Car Company Tesla and his space programme.
The SpaceX launch live stream reached over 2.3 million concurrent viewers on YouTube, which made it the second most watched live event on the platform, behind another space-related event.
Although scientifically, using the car as a dummy payload provided the size and weight necessary to test the capability of the new rocket and it was a adjudged the “perfect fit” to use the Tesla car, as there was no reason not to take the opportunity to remind the auto industry that Musk was challenging the status quo in that arena, as well as in space.
It also turned out that the Roadster space launch was the “greatest ever car commercial without a dime spent on advertising”. It can be argued that the huge cost of shooting a rocket into space itself makes this arguable.
Where is the Roadstar right now?
Well, it so turns out that the car is still in space and has completed its first orbit around the sun, traveling more than 800 million miles since last year’s launch. It takes the Tesla about 18.8 months to complete one trip around the sun.
Roadster was originally sent on a path toward Mars’ orbit, but because of the car’s unsterile condition, planetary scientists had worried about bacterial contamination once it crashed into the red planet, which would muddle scientific efforts to search for life on Mars.
The car is currently moving away from Earth at a speed of about 988 miles per hour, and It will fly near Mars again on October 7 this year and come relatively close to Earth every 30 years.
In fact, it is predicted that the car will make a close encounter with Earth by 2091, if it manages not to collide with other space bodies particularly Mars (where it moves closely to its orbit) and the asteroid belt.
What if it does? Well, it would join the hordes of mundane materials floating in space.
On Collision Course?
Simulations over a 3-million-year timespan found a probability of the Roadster colliding with Earth at approximately 6%, or with Venus at approximately 2.5%. These probabilities of collision are similar to those of other near-Earth objects. The Tesla will cross the orbit of Mars twice per orbit, but not likely to run into mars in its orbit.
There are concerns that the car may find itself on a collision course with the asteroid belt, which is reportedly quite large, and the asteroids spaced much farther apart than one might think, even at this, its chances of avoiding collision are pretty good.
As it is, the Roadster has exceeded its original 36,000-mile warranty more than 13,000 times over and yet to collide with space junks or planetary bodies.
Contamination of Space?
There are muted concerns about biological contamination of a foreign world citing that the car is the “dirtiest” man-made object ever sent into space, in terms of bacteria amount. This is noting that the car was previously driven on Los Angeles freeways.
This is countered by theories that the vehicle will be sterilized by solar radiation over time, but with the risk that some bacteria might survive on pieces of plastic which could contaminate Mars in the distant future. This remain to be seen.
It is predicted that radiation will eventually break down any material with carbon–carbon bonds, including carbon fiber parts. Tires, paint, plastic and leather might last only about a year, while carbon fiber parts will last considerably longer. Eventually, only the aluminum frame, inert metals, and glass not shattered by meteoroids will remain.
So what next?
Getting humans to the Red Planet (Mars) is one of Musk’s goals for SpaceX. The space experiment with the Falcon Heavy is one successful launch that is guaranteed to herald future space exploration further into the infinitesimal world of the undiscovered universe.
This may happen sooner than we imagine.
On the Tesla;
Whatever the Tesla’s exact orbit is now, it won’t stay the same forever. Out there in the solar system, the car will be subject to the gravitational tugs of other planets.
Before it probably gets smashed to pieces, it is expected that its orbit would be changed by the gravity of Jupiter and other forces—its orbit will be stretched out and it will start crossing not just Mars’s orbit twice every 18.8 months but Earth’s, and eventually Venus’s and Mercury’s. If it manages not to hit any of those planets (or the moon), it’ll eventually end its days millions of years from now hitting the sun.
Time will tell.
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