Starman has gone dark

Devin Coldewey
TechCrunch

Starman and his space Tesla have sent their last selfie from Earth orbit, Elon Musk announced. The car and its mannequin driver (in working SpaceX spacesuit) launched yesterday atop the Falcon Heavy rocket will eventually escape Earth orbit and travel outwards through the solar system — but not in a hurry.

Elon Musk posted the "last pic" of Starman and on Instagram, though it's such a nice frame that one suspects it's probably the best of its last final minutes. At a press conference yesterday, he prepared us all for the inevitable shutdown of the most strangely fascinating live stream since Puddle Watch.

"The battery's going to last about 12 hours from launch, roughly," he said. "After that it's just going to be out there in deep space for maybe millions, maybe billions of years, who knows? Maybe discovered by some alien race that'll be like, 'What were they doing? Did they worship this car?' Why did they have a little car in the car?' "

(There was a toy Tesla Roadster with a toy guy in it glued to the dash.)

It's not really clear when it actually went offline, but it was an enjoyable time while it lasted. Some questioned Musk's motives in turning the launch into a sort of two-fer PR stunt promoting his other big company, but he said it really was just done in the spirit of fun.

"It's silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important," he said. "It's literally a normal car in space. I like the absurdity of that. Normally they'd launch a block of concrete or something, that's boring."

Starman and the car will continue their slow outward movement, and will eventually cross the orbit of Mars and then enter the asteroid belt, where it seems likely it's going to get nailed by one of the many, many rocks there. But depending on the angle of its orbit, it might also leave the ecliptic and avoid death by smashing.

Either way, it won't be for many years. We're not sure what the Roadster's velocity is, but it ain't fast, and Mars is quite a distance away. It may be decades or centuries before it gets far enough to be in danger. Assuming Elon Musk has discovered the secret of eternal youth by then, he'll probably 'gram that too.

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