Elon Musk Offers a Rocky Forecast for His Mars-Bound Tesla

"It's going to be doing this grand tour through the Van Allen belt"

In preparation for Tuesday’s long-awaited launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful operational rocket, company founder Elon Musk offered more color for what’s in store.

Musk’s personal midnight cherry-colored Tesla Roadster constitutes the Falcon Heavy’s first payload, which will rotate around the sun in a Martian orbit, assuming it doesn’t get totally wrecked by the Van Allen radiation belt.

“It’s going to be doing this grand tour through the Van Allen belt and get whacked pretty hard and if it makes it through all that, it will do quite a long burn…and go out to Mars orbit, which is about 50 percent beyond that of Earth, so it will get about 250-270 million miles and be doing 11/kilometers per second.”

The car, which will be playing Davie Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on repeat for the rest of its spacebound life, has a rough couple of years ahead. In the teleconference, John Taylor, the communications director for SpaceX, revealed in a discussion about the details of the Roadster’s orbit.

“We estimate it’ll be in that orbit for several hundred million years, maybe in excess of a billion years,” said Taylor. “At times it will come extremely close to Mars.

“There’s a tiny, tiny chance that it will hit Mars,” Musk deadpanned to reporters.

Asked whether SpaceX has quantified the odds that Musk’s roadster will do so, Taylor said: “Extremely tiny.”

Getting the car into its elliptical orbit around Mars seems to be a greater challenge than avoiding a crash. Doing so, Taylor explained, will put the Roadster through a six-hour coast through deep space, which “we’ve never done before.” As it coasts, it will pass through the planet’s Van Allen belt, the radiation-heavy zone around the planet that forms as energetic charged particles from the solar wind get trapped there by the planet’s magnetic field. The Van Allen belt is not a place any car lover would want to put their car through, but Musk is willing to take the risk.

“It’s going to experience radioactivity and high-energy particles. It’s going to get whacked pretty hard,” Taylor said.

It isn’t just the radioactivity that threaten the Falcon Heavy payload. “Also, the fuel could freeze, and the oxygen could vaporize, all of which could inhibit the trans-Mars injection,” Taylor said.

Like all loyal SpaceX employees, he remained optimistic.

“Oh, don’t worry about the car,” he said. “It’ll be fine. Least of my concerns, I hope.”

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