Elon Musk made a bold proclamation about the floating Tesla car currently hurtling through space, but alas this fairytale doesn’t have a happy ending.
When SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket took off into the night and reached Earth’s orbit, it not only set a record for the most powerful rocket to reach space, but in the process it also launched a dummy Tesla Roadster car with a fake driver called Starman to go on one unforgettable space journey.
After spending a few hours circling the Earth, and sending back some of the most epic footage of a space dummy ever seen, the dummy Tesla Roadster car with Starman onboard was pushed towards the intended orbit of Mars, with Elon Musk hoping that the car would actually make it all the way out to the asteroid belt.
Third burn successful. Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt. pic.twitter.com/bKhRN73WHF
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 7, 2018
But the SpaceX rocket carrying the Tesla car seems to have gotten too ahead of itself, by overshooting its original path and has put the Tesla in an orbit that extends beyond the path of Mars. If the car can’t slingshot around Mars, it won’t have enough momentum to reach the rocky asteroid belt, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had originally claimed.
The new path of the Tesla Roadster car shows it will travel beyond the orbit of Mars, but not far enough to make it to the asteroid belt — which stretches between Mars and Jupiter. The belt begins about 529 million kilometres from the Sun, and the Tesla is expected to reach a max of distance about 257 million kilometres — which is less than half of what is needed.
We know that when this project began, Elon Musk publicly spoke about the minuscule chance the Tesla car had to reach Mars to begin with. That the Tesla Roadster will reach within 7 million kilometres of Mars’ orbit in October 2020 — its closest point from the Red Planet — is an achievement in itself. In fact, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard and spaceflight expert, the Tesla Roadster car will come back to Earth in the future.
How’s that possible? Because the Earth also spins around the Sun, if you remember your school’s geography class. The Roadster will fly 45 million kilometres close to Earth in March 2021, according to McDowell, as quoted by The Verge.
Nothing can take away from the warm fuzzy feeling Elon Musk must be experiencing by the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. This will no doubt have a positive impact in launching larger, even heavier payloads in space — big positive indicators towards commercialization of space. Space hotels, space tourism, setting up a base on the moon, mining space for minerals, taking bigger strides towards Mars colonization. The future couldn’t come too soon!