Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster keeps traveling higher, farther, faster

A little more than a year ago, Elon Musk’s launched his personal Tesla Roadster into space. Ostensibly, Musk’s extraterrestrial venture, SpaceX, was flight testing its Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time and it needed a dummy payload. Of course, what Musk lost in terms of resale value on the Roadster was more than made up in publicity value for SpaceX. The reusable booster stages came back to earth as planned, and the roadster continues its journey on an elliptical orbit around the Sun that takes it all the way around Mars before heading back near Earth.

It has another 200 days or so to complete its first orbit but the little red Roadster has already circled beyond the red planet and travelled almost 503 million miles. That means it’s travelled higher, farther, and faster than any other car ever made, even farther than the late Irv Gordon’s red (see a pattern here?) Volvo P1800.

The Roadster cruised past Mars at 44,500 mph, and now that it’s accelerating towards the sun it is currently moving at 51,036 mph. That would obliterate any Land Speed Record, well, if it was on land. At its farthest distance from earth, Musk’s Roadster was about 155 million miles above Earth.

Animation of SpaceX Roadster's trajectory
Animation of SpaceX Roadster's trajectory. Pink: SpaceX Roadster, Yellow: Sun, Teal: Mercury, Orange: Venus, Blue: Earth, Red: Mars Phoenix7777

It wasn’t the first car in space, though. That honor goes to NASA’s Lunar Rover, designed by General Motors and built by Boeing. Its top speed was 8 mph.

The Falcon Heavy carries the equivalent energy of 126,000 gallons of gasoline in RP-1 (that stands for Rocket Propellant) and liquid oxygen, for a MPGe of almost 4000 miles per gallon. Since that fuel is all spent and the Roadster keeps coasting in space, that figure will keep going up until either the orbit decays and the Roadster burns up in the atmosphere or a meteor or piece of space junk crashes into it.

Until then, The Roadster’s “driver,” Starman, will keep looping past the inner planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars, and ol’ Terra Firma. Starman, a mannequin dressed up like an astronaut, was named after the protagonist of David Bowie’s song of the same name. Unclear why he wasn’t named Major Tom. The Roadster’s stereo system was set to play Bowie’s Space Oddity on a continuous loop, but since there aren’t any photocells to recharge it, the car’s battery surely ran out of power some time ago.

Float on, Starman!

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