On this day (Feb. 6) five years ago, SpaceX test launched a Falcon Heavy rocket into deep space with a special payload on board: a red 2008 Tesla Roadster owned by Elon Musk, CEO f both SpaceX and Tesla. The sports car, with a spacesuit-clad dummy named “Starman” sitting in its driver’s seat, was sent toward Mars’s orbit and expected to eventually crash into the Red Planet. But since launch, it has actually been wandering in an irregular orbit in the solar system, with a slim chance it will crash into Earth, Venus or the Sun in the remote future.
Currently, the red Roadster is 203,408,182 miles, or 18.2 light minutes, from Earth and is moving toward our home planet at a speed of 6,395 mile per hour, according to WhereIsRoadster.com, an independent site tracking the car’s real-time location in space using NASA data. The Roadster is going around the Sun approximately every 557 days and has finished nearly 3.28 solar orbits, according to the tracking site.
However, no one knows for sure whether the car is still in one piece. It hasn’t been observed since March 2018, about a month after it was launched. In October 2020, SpaceX said the Roadster flew by Mars for the first time, apparently based on a pure mathematical calculation, not an observation.
Shortly after the 2018 test mission, an academic paper by Hanno Rein, an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto in Canada, estimated Musk’s car would likely crash into either Earth, Venus or the Sun. The odds of it colliding with Earth, and likely burning out in Earth’s atmosphere, within the next 15 million years is about 22 percent, and there is a 12 percent chance it will crash into Venus or the Sun, according to Rein’s calculation.
At its launch in 2018, Musk set the dummy Starman to listen to endless loops of David Bowie’s Space Oddity in one ear and Life On Mars? in the other during the journey.
If the battery is still working, Starman has listened to Space Oddity 496,115 times since he launched in one ear, and to Is there Life On Mars? 668,495 times in his other ear, according to WhereIsRoadster.com.