Okay quick backstory: in February 2018, Elon Musk launched a payload into space during a Falcon Heavy test flight.
The "payload" was top secret at the time. But we soon found out it was a US$100,000 cherry red Tesla roadster -once actually owned and used for daily commute by Musk - complete with a pilot/driver. The pilot is affectionately known as Starman, an ode to David Bowie's song of the same name.
Naturally, Musk set the roadsters sound system to play Bowie's "Space Oddity" on loop. Even though the car's battery died 12 hours after launch.
But now, Starman just cruised by Mars for the first time. On his own, like a big boy. We're not counting the launch.
SpaceX announced via their Twitter: "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," on October, 7th.
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 pic.twitter.com/gV8barFTm7— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 7, 2020
Bare with us here, under 5 million miles from Mars mightn't seem like a flyby of Mars.
You have to consider the magnitude of space, even within our solar system. An 'astronomical unit, as the tweet says, is the distance between Earth and the sun. So, coming in contact with
You can check out the realtime whereabouts of the roadster at whereisroadster.com.
Starman and his ride circle our sun every 557 Earth days. And as of today (12th, October), the odometer has clocked close to 2.1 billion km through space. Nearly the equivalent of travelling to Uranus.
"It's a long-distance. Mars would appear about 1/10 the diameter of the Moon, so small but not a point. It will pass about 5 million km from Earth in the year 2047. Not close enough to see it as a resolved object." said Jonathan Dowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Unfortunately, this means the roadster voided its 36,000-mile warranty 36,098.2 times. But the good news is its mileage has hit an incredible: "10,313.8 miles per gallon, assuming 126,000 gallons of fuel.” according to Where Is Roadster?
If the battery was still functioning, Starman would have listened to Space Oddity 264,916 times by now.
But with an expiration date expected in the next few tens of millions of years, Starman and the roadster will rack up a close to a trillion km before crashing back to (what's left of) Earth or Mars.
So bring an umbrella.
After completing 1.75 orbits around the sun, its on a course towards us at the brisk speed of 27803.027km per hour. And by "on course" we mean general direction. By current estimates, the roadster won't be within 5 million km of Earth until 2047.