Starman's Tesla Completes Orbit Around the Sun

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Elon Musk's original Tesla Roadster is predicted to orbit the inner-solar system for at least a few million years. (Photo: SpaceX)

The Starman sitting behind the wheel of Elon Musk's original cherry red Tesla Roadster is most certainly living up to his name.

The dummy payload, which caught a ride into space aboard SpaceX's historic launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket in early 2018, has completed his first orbit around the sun.

Though you won't be able to see Starman in the sky the way you can pick out the International Space Station, you can follow along on the Where Is Roadster site, which also offers interesting trivia. For instance, as of this writing, the vehicle has traveled the equivalent of driving all of the world’s roads 33.8 times and the car is getting roughly 6,000 miles per gallon. (The site isn't affiliated with SpaceX or Tesla or even Elon Musk. As the creator of the site says, "I'm just this guy, you know?")

The moment follows the first milestone, when Starman passed beyond the orbit of Mars — a distance of more than 180 million miles from Earth.

In a tweet, SpaceX posted an image of the Roadster, now an artificial satellite of the sun, and its position in relation to the inner planets of the solar system. It's speed? A cool 34,644 miles per hour.

"Starman's current location. Next stop, the restaurant at the end of the universe," they wrote, adding a tongue-in-cheek reference to author Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

Before the famous launch, Musk revealed that instead of the concrete dummy payloads traditionally used by aerospace companies during test flights, he would instead be donating his 2008-model Roadster complete with a mannequin clad in a SpaceX pressure spacesuit.

"Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing 'Space Oddity'," Musk tweeted. "Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn't blow up on ascent."

After a successful launch aboard the Falcon Heavy, the Roadster spent six glorious hours in what's ironically called a "parking orbit" around Earth. Cameras secured to the upper stage of the Falcon Heavy transmitted live video that, as shown below, is still something to behold.

To infinity and beyond (well, almost)

A study just after launch by researchers at the University of Toronto said the vehicle will have its next close encounter with Earth in the year 2091. Computer simulations of its orbit millions of years into the future give it fair odds of one day colliding with either Earth or Venus.

"Although we are not able to tell on which planet the car will ultimately end up, we're comfortable saying it won't survive in space for more than a few tens of millions of years," co-author Dan Tamayo said in a statement.

Others are quick to point out that there may not be much left of Starman to destroy when the end finally comes. Much of the vehicle's organic materials — plastics, fabrics, tires, even its cherry-red paint — will, according to Indiana University chemist William Carroll, likely be destroyed relatively quickly by radiation and impacts from small meteoroids.

"Those organics, in that environment, I wouldn't give them a year," he told LiveScience at the time.

Inorganic materials such as the vehicle's aluminum frame and glass windows will last longer, making the car recognizable by some estimates for at least a million years.

So "Don't Panic!" — as the console screen on the Roadster amusingly reads — Starman in some form or another will likely be around cruising our galaxy long after we're all stardust. But man, what a ride!