(CNN) — It’s been half a decade since SpaceX became everyone’s talk of the town for its decision to launch Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster into outer space, sending the sports car on an endless journey into the cosmic wilderness, where it is expected to live for millennia. hopefully. ,
Now this Monday, February 6th, the cherry-colored sports car officially celebrates exactly five years in space.
By the time of its anniversary, estimated data indicates that it had completed about three and a half orbits around the Sun and was about 200 million miles from Earth, according to the tracking website whereisroadster.com.
The Roadster has traveled more than 4 billion kilometers in space, for the most part through a barren vacuum. However, in 2020, the rover made its first approach to Mars, coming within 8 million kilometers of the planet, or about 20 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
However, it is difficult to say with absolute certainty where the vehicle is, or to determine whether it is still intact, as it may have been damaged or destroyed by a meteorite or destroyed beyond recognition by radiation. There have been no direct observations of the Roadster since 2018, in the weeks immediately following its launch into orbit on a 1.3-million-kilogram Falcon Heavy rocket. The current data is based only on calculated estimates of the vehicle’s path.
Astronomers don’t have much incentive to actively follow CAR, because it doesn’t provide much scientific value.
Ultimately, Tesla was to serve as a disposable “dummy payload” for the Falcon Heavy’s first mission in February 2018, a launch that Musk also predicted would have only a 50% chance of success.
But eventually, the launch went smoothly. And the rover has been orbiting the Sun ever since, taking a rectangular path that is as close to the Sun as the orbital path of Mars and as Earth orbits.
By Monday, the rover’s path intersected Mars’ path, even though the planet itself was on the opposite side of the Sun.
Ahead of its 2018 launch, SpaceX loaded the vehicle with various nods to elements of popular culture.
Behind the wheel was a mannequin dressed in a space suit, named Starman, and on the dashboard was a sign reading “Don’t Panic”, a reference to the famous science fiction story “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. There was also a data storage device filled with the works of science fiction author Isaac Asimov and a plaque with the names of thousands of SpaceX employees.
Musk said at the launch that he hoped humans would one day establish settlements on other planets in the solar system, an old Musk fantasy that also underlies SpaceX’s stated mission to colonize Mars. When that happens, Musk said he hopes his “descendants can take the Roadster to the museum.”
For now, though, the Roadster isn’t likely to make a close pass of another planet until 2035, when it will brush Mars again. According to NASA data, it will pass twice within a few million kilometers of Earth in 2047 and 2050.
A 2018 academic paper also estimated that the probability of it hitting Earth in the next 15 million years would be about 22%. There is a 12% chance of it hitting Venus or the Sun.
If the car does eventually hit Earth, we’ll have to wait for it to disintegrate as it hits the dense atmosphere. (Actually, it is quite common for space objects to collide with Earth and often burn up in the atmosphere during entry. They rarely hit populated areas.)
To keep track of the Roadster’s approximate location, it has its own entry in NASA’s Horizons database, which tracks every “body” in the Solar System, including exploration probes, planets, moons, comets and spacecraft. Tesla is cataloged as object-143205, “SpaceX Roadster (Spacecraft) (Tesla)”.
To see a simulation of Tesla’s orbit (based on Horizon data), go to OrbitSimulator.com and search for “roadster”.