Starman might need a new ride.
Exactly one year after the appropriately named mannequin blasted off in Elon Musk’s flashy red Tesla roadster as the first-ever payload for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket (with David Bowie’s "Space Oddity" playing on its radio), that vehicle probably wouldn’t do so well on a Carfax report. Blame cosmic forces.
When the Tesla and its inanimate driver first drove into infinity, SpaceX believed that Starman would stay behind the wheel for a billion years. A recently published study revealed a slightly less astronomical prediction. Before the car possibly crashes into Earth or Venus within some tens of millions of years (not Mars, as Musk imagined a year ago), it will still have to face getting junked by space.
Don’t worry too much about a hunk of metal hurtling through the atmosphere. There is only a 6 percent chance that car will ever rendezvous with Earth again, and a 2.5 percent chance that it will crash into Venus, where it will probably end up melting in the ridiculous heat.
As the astro-mannequin cruised in an orbit around the sun and beyond Mars for the past year, his roadster was getting bombarded with micrometeorites, which relentlessly dented that shiny red exterior. It won’t stay bright red for long. Cosmic rays and solar radiation will rip apart the carbon-carbon bonds in the car’s plastic, leather, and fabric components. The paint may already be gone, along with the tires and luxe leather seats.
"Those organics, in that environment, I wouldn't give them a year," chemist William Carroll told LiveScience.
The Tesla will probably still be in orbit a million years from now, though it will probably be an aluminum skeleton at that point. It’s already maxed out its warranty some 10,000 times. Tesla’s current warranty for a used roadster is 50,000 miles. Starman has already done 470 million miles on the open road—more like open space.
In case you do see a peculiar object falling through the atmosphere, just know that it could be Elon Musk’s car returning to its home planet.