SpaceX's Starman Just Did A Flyby Of Mars In His Tesla Roadster!

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Starman and the red Tesla Roadster were launched to space in 2018 (Credit: SpaceX)

Zipping across the solar system in an electric car may seem like something straight out of a science fiction movie. However, that is exactly what Starman — a mannequin dressed in an astronaut's suit and seated inside a red Tesla Roadster — has been doing since being blasted into space aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket on November 5, 2018.

In less than two years, Starman and the snazzy vehicle, which once belonged to Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, have traveled nearly 1.3 billion miles — far enough to drive all of the roads on Earth more than 57 times over — and completed 1.7507 orbits around the Sun. On October 7, 2020, the space pioneers reached a new milestone when they got to within 5 million miles of Mars. "Starman, last seen leaving Earth, made its first close approach with Mars today — within 0.05 astronomical units, or under 5 million miles, of the Red Planet," SpaceX announced via Twitter.

On October 7, 2020, Starman and his roadster (orbit depicted in red) came to within 5 million miles of Mars (Credit: SpaceX)

The flyby was calculated by Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Since neither the Tesla nor the Falcon Heavy rocket's second stage, upon which it is perched, has signal tracking software, the scientist had to use the same gravitational data that NASA uses to steer its space probes. "It's a pretty confident extrapolation because we understand gravity pretty well," McDowell told Business Insider. "The only thing that could throw you off is what we call outgassing: If there was leftover fuel, or if the paint job on the Tesla carriage came off, that acts as a little rocket that pushes it forward. But that won't change it much."

McDowell says that during the flyby, Mars would have most likely appeared about 10 percent the size of the Moon from Earth. "It's a long-distance," the astronomer told CNN. "Mars would appear about 1/10 the diameter of the Moon, so small but not a point."

The expert says the Roadster and its passenger will achieve an even closer flyby of Earth in 2047 when it will pass within 3.1 million miles of our planet. Unfortunately, the distance will still be too far to observe the duo from our planet.

Starman's space launch was not just a slick PR stunt by SpaceX. The company needed a payload to test the Falcon Heavy rocket's first flight without risking human lives, and the dummy and car were ideal candidates for the job. Researchers at the University of Toronto predict that the two will continue gliding across the solar system for millions of years and have close encounters with Mercury and Venus. While there is a small probability — less than 6 percent — of them eventually crashing back to Earth, experts believe the intrepid space travelers are most likely to be swallowed by the Sun or crash into Venus.

Resources: Space.com, syfy.com, Businessinsider.com

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194 Comments
  • dippyfresh27
    dippyfresh27Thursday, October 22, 2020 at 10:52 am
    Who else loves going to space
    • sassysam
      sassysamMonday, October 26, 2020 at 5:30 pm
      I don't love going to space but I want to go to space I've never been😂
    • littlejango
      littlejangoThursday, October 22, 2020 at 10:03 am
      elon musk is awesome!!!
      • babyyoyo
        babyyoyoThursday, October 22, 2020 at 9:15 am
        he got a car from 2008
        • babyyoyo
          babyyoyoThursday, October 22, 2020 at 9:15 am
          he big boi
          • vany
            vanyWednesday, October 21, 2020 at 4:46 pm
            why did they put the tesla in space what is the point
            • rubyswirlz
              rubyswirlzFriday, October 23, 2020 at 6:48 am
              as a test, you cant just go into space without knowing if youll die or not
              • ultrajango
                ultrajangoThursday, October 22, 2020 at 10:04 am
                I agree, what is the point???
                • strider1fox2
                  strider1fox2Friday, October 23, 2020 at 9:29 am
                  he just wanna be fly ... litteraly
                • ionuibniouljklj
                  ionuibniouljkljThursday, October 22, 2020 at 9:23 am
                  i think to orbit the sun
                • littlest
                  littlestWednesday, October 21, 2020 at 1:58 pm
                  HOW IN THE WORLD!!! HE DROVE HES TESLA TO MARS!!!!!
                  • nidykyfa-160071263809
                    nidykyfa-160071263809Sunday, October 25, 2020 at 11:50 am
                    hE flew in a rocket
                    • chrisyboigm
                      chrisyboigmFriday, October 23, 2020 at 11:18 am
                      Accutauly, he used a rocket
                    • ffoster1111
                      ffoster1111Wednesday, October 21, 2020 at 12:40 pm
                      So darn cool😀😀😀
                      • 98607987-698769
                        98607987-698769Wednesday, October 21, 2020 at 11:18 am
                        Man that guy is zoomin
                        • strider1fox2
                          strider1fox2Friday, October 23, 2020 at 9:29 am
                          i know right XD
                        • gaelxx101
                          gaelxx101Wednesday, October 21, 2020 at 10:58 am
                          I love the music whats it called?
                          • chrisyboigm
                            chrisyboigmThursday, October 22, 2020 at 12:33 pm
                            Its called Life on mars by David Bowie
                          • creepybaldman
                            creepybaldmanWednesday, October 21, 2020 at 10:42 am
                            I know right! This is so crazy! OMG! hehehe