Elon Musk is a smart and immensely powerful man, who from time to time plays the meathead.

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At the start of 2018, true to form, the multibillionaire used a US$90 million ( NZ$143 million) rocket, regarded as the most powerful rocket in the world The Falcon Heavy, to send a US$100,000 (NZ$158,600) cherry red, convertible Tesla Roadster

With the top down and a dummy at the wheel listening to David Bowie.

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Elon Musk posted this picture to Instagram 08 February 2018. Photo / @elon
Elon Musk posted this picture to Instagram 08 February 2018. Photo / @elon

The Roadster has travelled farther than any other car in history, equivalent to driving every single road in the world 22 times.

Right now, the Roadster is travelling through space at thousands of kilometers per hour, faster than most fighter jets.

"Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks," Musk wrote at the time on Instagram. "That seemed extremely boring. Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel."

What is the impact?

The Planetary Society was concerned that launching a non-sterile object (as was done on the Falcon Heavy Test Flight) to interplanetary space may risk biological contamination of a foreign world.

Scientists at Purdue University commented that it was the "dirtiest" man-made object ever sent into space, noting the car was previously driven on Los Angeles freeways.

If microorganisms were found on Mars we may never know whether they actually came from Earth in the first place.

When SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket launched on February 6, 2018, it was powered through space like a slingshot.

After the first burn, SpaceX put the upper stage in an experimental six-hour "coast," where the rocket didn't fire. In November, that boost got it all the way to Mars.

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Elon Musk sends the company shares plummeting after his remarks regarding one of the Thai rescue divers. 18 July 2018 New Zealand Herald Cartoon by Rod Emmerson
Elon Musk sends the company shares plummeting after his remarks regarding one of the Thai rescue divers. 18 July 2018 New Zealand Herald Cartoon by Rod Emmerson

It sounds clean, but the mass of most rockets are more than 95% fuel. Building bigger rockets means more fuel is used for each launch. The current fuel for Falcon Heavy is RP-1 (a refined kerosene) and liquid oxygen, which creates a lot of carbon dioxide when burnt.

This amount of carbon is a drop in the ocean compared to global industrial emissions as a whole, but if the SpaceX's plan for a rocket launch every two weeks comes to fruition, this amount of carbon (approximately 4,000 tonnes per year) will rapidly become a problem.

The Roadster is currently on a path around the sun, taking it past Venus and Mercury too. It completes one full orbit about every 557 days, and is scheduled to finish its first orbit before the end of 2019.

Now, if nothing unexpected happens, like a miniature asteroid strike that could pummel the car to pieces, researchers predict that the Roadster will orbit the sun for the next few million years.

The asteroid strike (or whatever else) risk further trashing space. Every modern space mission is required to think about clearing up after itself, but it hasn't mattered.

Space debris is rapidly becoming clasutraphobic – there are more than 150m objects that need to be tracked. Any impact or degradation of the car near Mars could start creating debris at the red planet.

Humanity's pollution of another planet has already begun.

Eventually, it will make its way back to earth, Musk promises. A team at the University of Toronto has projected the Roadster's orbit decades into the future. They believe that in the year 2091, it will likely pass close enough to Earth that it will be visible through a powerful telescope like the Panstar's telescope in Hawaii.