Starman Off to the … Asteroid Belt (Update)

Starman Off to the … Asteroid Belt (Update)

He may be called Starman after David Bowie’s classic song, but Elon Musk’s spacesuited mannequin in a Tesla Roadster is off to the asteroid belt, not the stars.

Sitting at the wheel of Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster, Starman was launched into space yesterday on SpaceX’s test launch of its new Falcon Heavy rocket.  Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX, which developed the Falcon Heavy, and of Tesla cars.

Three cameras attached to the car sent back incomparable photos of Starman and the car against the backdrop of Earth that SpaceX is posting to social media.  Unfortunately, the batteries were good for only 12 hours.  This afternoon, Musk posted the final image on Instagram.

Last picture of Starman driving his cherry red Tesla Roadster enroute to the asteroid belt. Credit: Elon Musk’s Instagram page, February 7, 2018.

Musk had said Starman and the Roadster would enter a heliocentric orbit passing by Earth and Mars for a million or even a billion years.  After the third and final firing of the Falcon Heavy’s second stage last night, however, he said that the burn “exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt.”

The asteroid belt lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter as they circle the Sun.

SpaceX has not released the orbital parameters of the Tesla, but it is now being tracked along with thousands of other space objects by the U.S. Air Force Space Command.

UPDATE:  Musk’s statement may not be accurate however.  Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell tweeted that SpaceX provided the orbital parameters to him and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and his analysis shows that it will not go as far as the Asteroid Belt, but be closer to Mars as originally intended.

Congratulations keep pouring in to Musk and SpaceX.   Vice President Pence, who chairs the White House National Space Council, tweeted his yesterday along with other politicians, SpaceX business competitors, NASA, and others.  President Trump added his late last night.

Debates are certain to escalate over the appropriate roles of the government versus the private sector in the future of the space program, but for this moment perhaps it is enough to simply enjoy the images that Musk himself calls “ridiculous and impossible.”

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