Science, Now + Beyond

The Tesla Roadster could just be the dirtiest object in space to date

And you can totally track the car with your phone, too.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The sensational tech entrepreneur Elon Musk launched a cherry red Tesla Roadster – with a ‘Starman’ model seated on the front seat and David Bowie’s song Life on Mars playing on repeat- into space.

Yes, you read that right!

SpaceX’s new super rocket, the Falcon Heavy was used to deploy the car into the orbit with twice the launching power of any existing rocket. Thousands of people gathered in Florida to watch the launch from Kennedy Space Center as it soared making history.  While Mr. Musk himself was skeptical about the launch at first, saying that the chances of success were 50-50, after a successful and smooth deployment he was found tweeting pictures of his old car orbiting Australia.

The sensational tech entrepreneur Elon Musk launched a cherry red Tesla Roadster - with a ‘Starman’ model seated on the front seat and David Bowie’s song Life on Mars playing on repeat- into space. Click To Tweet

The world right now is tripping over these images and live feed coming back from the remarkable electric sports car.

“It’s kind of silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important,” Musk remarked at a news conference following SpaceX’s successful launch. It is a huge achievement given that SpaceX is a private firm rather than a prodigious government space agency like NASA or ESA.

What is the future of Tesla’s Roadster?

tesla fairing GIF
[image description: snapshot of Tesla with the earth faintly in the background.] vie Giphy.com
The question, however, remains unanswered – what will happen to it in the harsh glare of the unshielded sun?

Scientists have speculated that Starman will disintegrate within a year. Debates have sprung up across the globe that even if the car manages to miraculously avoid any major collisions, it might not escape the wrath of the radiations in outer space. It is a known fact that stellar radiations can snap carbon-carbon and carbon-hydrogen bonds so you can expect organic materials such as the leather seats, paint or rubber tires to eventually splinter away.

“The sturdy carbon-fiber parts would likely be the last to go, over a much longer span of time,” remarked William Carroll, a chemist at Indiana University in an interview with LiveScience. What will be left of it might not even remain recognizable in the future.

What will be left of Starman might not even remain recognizable in the future. Click To Tweet

Would you call it a futile venture?

sherlock avengers GIF
[image description: A girl in a lab sticking her hands in the air – caption: I regret nothing.] Via Giphy.com
If things go as planned, Starman is expected to orbit the Sun for hundreds of millions of years. According to the international law mandated in the Outer Space Treaty, sending a car directly into the Mars orbit raises legal concerns on planetary protection.

Most of us might have been unaware of this, but yes there is a law against contamination in space too. For any spacecraft heading to a place that might host life, such as Mars, there are important implications. To avoid this, Tesla’s Roadster will be delivered near where Mars orbits around the Sun and then be left to travel forever through space.

Is it performing any operation in space? No. What is it doing then?

[image description: Elon Musk in a suit, in front of a microphone. Casually sipping on a drink.] Via Giphy.com
The answer is, it is bridging the gap for launching and licensing of commercial space missions which have been ignored till now. There is no contemporary legal framework that oversees such radical projects. The entire process of launching commercial satellites has been streamlined till now. Also, in the near future, it will share the burden of government agencies as they will be able to directly procure parts and technologies from private entities.

@elonmusk Starman is bridging the gap for launching and licensing of commercial space missions which have been ignored till now. Click To Tweet

Is it really necessary to explore space when there is so much that needs to be done on earth?

the office yes GIF
[image description: Pam from The Office staring into the camera saying yup.] Via Giphy.com
The answer is yes.

I’ve come across articles that criticized Musk’s fritting away of billions of dollars while humanitarian crises such as that in Syria persist. I think it is an unfair argument, why do we have sacrifice long-term goals for short-term needs? As an aspiring scientist, I believe such missions are crucial for the most basic of reasons, our self-preservation as a creative society. It will foster a genuine interest in our kid’s generations to create and inspire the world while we continue to consume earth’s natural resources at the current unimaginable rate.

Even Pakistan’s budget-starved space program and related educational institutes trying to accelerate their technological and scientific ventures. Our own scientists at home are dexterously exploring alien subjects such as gravitational waves and black holes and getting international acclaim for it.

As an aspiring scientist, I believe such missions are crucial for the most basic of reasons, our self-preservation as a creative society. Click To Tweet

A new era of space exploration is upon us indeed and I believe its basic purpose is to satisfy human curiosity by answering questions about the deep mysteries of the Universe in whatever way possible.

Rawail Naeem

Rawail Naeem

I am a Space Scientist working in the field of Earth Remote Sensing and Geographical Information Systems. I like to write on topics concerning the nature of the terrestrial and cosmic environments of life. I spend my spare time keeping the peace across the galaxy as a Jedi knight and binge watching Friends while I overdose on Lay's French Cheese. May the Force Be with You All!

Our weekly email will change your life.