Elon Musk’s Tesla, Starman fly past Mars 2 years after SpaceX launch

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  • In February 2018, SpaceX launched a Tesla Roadster owned by the company’s founder, Elon Musk, into deep space.
  • The electric vehicle, which has a spacesuit-clad “Starman” dummy in the driver’s seat, just made its first flyby of Mars.
  • To Starman, Mars would have appeared to be about one-tenth the size of the moon as seen from Earth, the astronomer Jonathan McDowell said.
  • The vehicle and its unlikely passenger, launched on the upper stage of a Falcon Heavy rocket, may travel for millions of years before crashing, most likely back into Earth.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

An electric car that Elon Musk rocketed into space more than two years ago just flew past Mars for the first time.

SpaceX, the rocket company Musk founded, launched his old Tesla Roadster aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket in February 2018 with a spacesuit-wearing dummy named “Starman” at the wheel.

The car also carried a Hot Wheels model of itself with a miniature Starman inside. In storage, it holds a copy of the sci-fi novels “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, along with a towel and a sign that says “Don’t Panic.” The car’s speakers even blasted the song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie after launch.

Since then, the rocket’s second stage has glided through space with no fuel to propel it, with Musk’s old red car perched on top of it.

“It’s a rocket stage with a hood ornament,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who independently calculated the Tesla’s close Mars pass, told Business Insider.

spacex falcon heavy launch

An illustration of Musk’s Tesla atop the upper stage of a Falcon Heavy rocket.


SpaceX/YouTube



The Tesla was supposed to slip into a circular orbit between Mars and the sun. But the mission

SpaceX Starman dummy finally makes it to Mars in Elon Musk’s red Tesla

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Starman abides.


SpaceX

Starman has finally made it to the red planet — sort of. 

It’s been over two and a half years since SpaceX successfully demonstrated its Falcon Heavy launch system. Rather than using a hunk of concrete or some other sort of ballast for a test payload, Elon Musk offered up his cherry red Tesla piloted by a dummy in a spacesuit named Starman.

Starman was set on a trajectory toward Mars, the planet Musk hopes to help transform into a new destination for humans in the coming decades. 

Just over 32 months later, the Tesla finally made its first close pass by Mars on Wednesday, according to a tweet from SpaceX.

Early calculations of the Tesla’s path through the cosmos show it has assumed an orbit around the sun that has it meandering back and forth between the orbits of Earth and Mars, roughly. 

This is Starman’s first close pass by Mars, but it’s not particularly close at just under 5 million miles (8 million kilometers). According to Ben Pearson, who developed the unofficial Where Is Roadster online tracker, the Tesla will be making a significantly closer pass of the red planet on April 22, 2035 at 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers).

We’ll have to wait a lot longer for Starman to make a swing by Earth. His next close pass won’t be until 2047, when the warranty on his Tesla will be long expired. 

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