Remember back in February 2018 when Elon Musk launched his $100,000 midnight cherry Tesla Roadster into space? According to real-time updates from the NASA / JPL HORIZONS system, Starman is still cruising around out there with his “Don’t Panic!” sign on the dash and a copy of Adams’ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in the glove compartment.
Initially launched as a dummy payload for SpaceX’s maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket, the space Tesla first crossed the orbit of Mars in July 2018, then turned around back toward Earth five months later. Following an elliptical path around the Sun, the convertible is currently passing between Earth and Mars - 36 million miles from Earth and 48 million miles from Mars - at an orbital speed of nearly 70,000 mph.
For the first four hours of flight, the Starman mannequin was riding along listening to David Bowie’s Space Oddity while streaming live video back to Earth. Tesla’s battery, cameras, and speakers are now dead, and chemists told Live Science early on that solar radiation will likely destroy the paint job, leather seats, rubber tires, and other organic materials within a year. But scientists expect the Tesla to remain in orbit for as long as the aluminum frame can dodge space debris and asteroid strikes – possibly millions of years.
Starman’s next close approach (as close as 1.4 million miles) to Mars is scheduled for April 22, 2035. It will then head back toward Earth with a close approach on January 11, 2047. Completing one full elliptical orbit around the Sun every 557 days, the Roadster will eventually approach more planets on its path, including Mercury and Venus.
We can’t see the Tesla by telescope yet, but researchers at the University of Toronto predict that the Roadster will finally perform an Earth drive-by close enough to be seen by telescope in 2091. Until then, we can visualize the Roadster’s current position in space via the Live Orbit view.