Elon Musk’s Personal Tesla Has Now Been Up in Space for 5 Years

But the cherry-colored roadster may not have weathered the half-decade well, as it could have been pummeled by space junk and meteoroids, or fried by radiation

Space is a busy highway. In fact, tens of thousands of man-made satellites—or items that have broken off of them, often as small as a piece of gravel, are orbiting the earth; these items were meant to be disposable. Occasionally, they smash into each other, or fall out of orbit and burn up in the atmosphere. Sometimes, smaller pieces will dent larger ones, like pedestrians on a busy sidewalk.

The North American Aerospace Defense Catalog Number is a database of all the artificial objects currently orbiting the earth. Number 43205 is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, according to the New Yorker; it has a dummy driver named Starman behind the wheel. The auto is also full of Easter eggs, and a sign that reads “Don’t Panic”—a reference to sci-fi writer Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Also loaded into the Roadster is a data storage device stuffed with the work of another science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, and a plaque bearing the names of thousands of SpaceX employees.

It was SpaceX that launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, and Starman is now one of the more well-known pieces of space junk. On Monday, the red vehicle had its fifth anniversary as a piece of space junk, according to CNN. No one can say Musk doesn’t like to mix business with hijinks.

Since then, it’s made three and a quarter trips around the sun, according to the tracking site, Where Is Roadster? Currently, it is located 23 million miles from Earth.

The vehicle has traveled more than 2.5 million miles, albeit aimlessly. In 2020, Tesla had a close encounter with Mars, passing by the red planet by a mere 5 million miles. Incidentally, Musk has said, “I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”

The picture you envision, however, of a red car suspended in space with a mannequin driver, is almost certainly no longer accurate after five years.

The Roadster may not be in great shape, or even in one piece, due to a number of space-specific hazards. It could have been smashed by other space junk, slammed by a meteoroid, or fried by radiation.

But that’s OK—at least Musk has something up there. And it means something, as space archaeologist Alice Gorman wrote at the time. “The red sports car symbolizes masculinity— power, wealth, and speed—but also how fragile masculinity is.”. Given that, Gorman asked, “Have we just sent the equivalent of a dick pic into space?”

Musk’s intentions weren’t as such. “I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future,” he tweeted at the time.

And Starman and the Roadster are not predicted to come down for another 15 million years, according to an academic study. That might satisfy the part of Musk that wants to live forever. 

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