NASA has officially listed Elon Musk’s floating Tesla Roadster as an object in space. The car was dropped off in space by the Falcon Heavy rocket earlier this week and features a dummy sitting in the driver's seat, clad in a SpaceX suit with David Bowie's "Space Oddity" playing in the background.
While some people have dubbed it the most expensive car ad in the world, others have applauded Musk’s sense of humor. Whatever your opinion of the stunt is, the car is now officially listed alongside other stars and celestial bodies in the NASA database. You can even look it up yourself. Online news has provided the handy instructions to see this extraordinary phenomenon for yourself. Simply head over to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s HORIZONS web interface, click “change” next to the target body, type in “SpaceX,” hit enter, then click “Generate ephemeris.” You’ll be presented with a schema detailing how the Tesla goes to space as well as its ephemeris, or its position in the sky.
NASA listing reveals secret
This NASA system tracks all other acknowledged bodies in the system such as satellites and even Mars. Die-hard Tesla fans will be pleased to discover that the NASA submission revealed a secret. According to the NASA information, there is a Hot Wheels toy model with a mini-Starman inside. If that wasn’t nerdy enough there is also a copy of Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels on a storage drive. NASA warns that ‘Over time, prediction errors could increase more rapidly than the formal statistics indicate due to unmodeled solar pressure, thermal re-radiation, or outgassing accelerations that are not currently characterized.’
Only danger ahead for Starman
The Tesla and Starman’s journey through space is expected to be one fraught with danger and dramatically changing conditions.
The car has already drifted off its initial course and experts are already hypothesizing what will happen if further drift occurs. Not only will the car soon start to face collision with thousands of micrometeorites and other space junk, it will experience the full force of dangerous cosmic radiation. It is this dangerous radiation likely to ultimately destroy the Roadster and its cargo.
The car's owner, SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk isn’t unaware of the fate of his vehicle. He acknowledges the high likelihood that the car won’t survive the extreme conditions of deep space.When asked how long he expects the Roadster to survive he said, "We didn't really test any of [the Roadster's] materials for space hardened, or whatever. It just has the same seats like a normal car has." The Tesla car and all its accouterments are currently in an orbit that takes it between .99 and 1.7 astronomical units, where one astronomical unit is approximately the distance between the Earth and the Sun. On average, Mars is 1.5 au from the Sun.
If you weren't aware of Elon Musk, SpaceX or Tesla, it is likely you know about it now. The Falcon Heavy rocket launch enjoyed global media attention and the audacity of Musk to leave the Tesla in space has taken up a lot of commentary in the last few weeks. Whether or not this attention leads to an increase in Tesla sales remains to be seen.