Starman, SpaceX’s dummy touring the solar system, could soon get a visitor.
Elon Musk, CEO of the space-faring firm, stated on Twitter Sunday that the company could launch a small spacecraft to catch up with Starman and take some photos “in a few years.” Musk, who regularly gives a virtual thumbs-up to fan ideas that eventually emerge as full-fledged projects, did not offer any more suggestions about how the mission could work.
Hours later, “Starman” completed his first full orbit around the sun, 18 months after first launching from Earth. Quite what state the dummy is in is unknown, whether it’s touring Mars in the red Tesla Roadster in near-perfect condition or if it’s taken a turn for the worse. Musk’s mission could lift the lid on one of the most bizarre launches undertaken by SpaceX.
SpaceX: Who Is Starman?
The “Starman” was perhaps one of the most visible features of SpaceX’s inaugural Falcon Heavy launch. The test mission, which took place in February 2018, marked the start of operations for the world’s most powerful rocket currently hosting launches. The 27-engine behemoth, essentially three Falcon 9 rockets merged into a single vehicle, creates over five million pounds of thrust at liftoff — only NASA’s Saturn V has ever beaten that figure, and that last flew in 1973.
To mark the occasion, Musk chose to send up his own red Tesla Roadster electric car as the test cargo. The dummy in the front seat was outfitted with a SpaceX spacesuit. On the in-car sound system, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” played on a constant loop.
The car was peppered with a number of references to pop culture and science fiction. The dashboard had the words “don’t panic” inscribed, a reference to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. A “5D quartz laser storage device,” produced in collaboration with the Arch Mission Foundation, contained the Isaac Asimov Foundation book trilogy. The latter firm is expected to work with Hypergiant Galactic on using that technology to build a 30 million-page backup of human knowledge in an inter-planetary internet.
Musk told reporters prior to the launch that he was “tripping balls” about the announcement:
After that it’s just going to be out there in space for maybe millions or billions of years. Maybe discovered by some future alien race thinking what the heck, what were these guys doing? Did they worship this car? Why do they have a little car in the car? And that’ll really confuse them.
SpaceX: Where Is the Car Now?
Starman, who has just completed its first full trip around the sun, has been tracked through the website WhereIsRoadster. Although the vehicle has returned to its starting point, it took a whole 18 months to complete its orbit, meaning the Earth is 185 million miles away from its starting point. Mars is a little bit closer, at around 69 million miles away. The car is moving toward Mars at a staggering 25,678 miles per hour.
If it was an Earth-based vehicle, the Roadster would be the fastest car in existence. It’s currently moving at a speed of 75,146 mph. It’s unlikely any Tesla store would look at the car — on its 763 million-mile journey, it’s exceeded the 36,000-mile warranty 21,000 times. That’s enough to travel every road on Earth 33 times.
Ever since the “Starman” launch, the Falcon Heavy has completed two commercial missions. The Arabsat-6A commercial satellite launch in April 2019. The STP-2 mission launched two months later in June, and re-used the two side boosters recovered from the previous launch.
The rocket may be gearing up for more commercial missions from the likes of Viasat and the Air Force, but the results of its first mission may not become clear until SpaceX captures footage of Starman again in a few years.