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That Time When We Found a Car Floating in Space
The year is 2371. An Intrepid-class starship, stranded 70,000 light-years from Earth, is making its way back home through the Delta quadrant of our galaxy, a journey that should take around 75 years. Out of the blue, it comes across a beat-up 1936 Ford truck, floating aimlessly through the vacuum of space.

That Time When We Found a Car Floating in Space

The Roadster and Starman made first close approach with Mars this weekThe Roadster and Starman made first close approach with Mars this weekThe Roadster and Starman made first close approach with Mars this week1936 Ford truck as seen through the USS Voyager view screenTesla Roadster position in space
For those of you not in the loop with the Star Trek universe, the above paragraph describes what happens in the August 28, 1995 episode of Star Trek: Voyager, the first episode of the second season, called The 37’s.

The crew of the Voyager stumbles upon the red Ford farmer’s truck as they try to make their way back home. That reveals an ancient SOS signal coming from a nearby planet, and that leads in turn to the Voyager landing on the planet, and the crew finding eight humans stranded there in suspended animation. Among them, Amelia Earhart, the American female pilot who disappeared in 1937.

But it’s the Ford we’re interested in here because, as outlandish as the idea of a car floating through space was back when the episode first aired, it’s something that really happened in our world, not long ago.

Yes, it’s the Cherry Red Tesla Roadster Elon Musk sent into space back in February 2018, when he used it as a dummy payload for the first Falcon Heavy test flight. A car that has entered the history books as the first such object (and probably last, or not) to be sent beyond Earth’s orbit, and was the talk of the day for many, many months that year.

In time, because humans do not have all that great attention spans, the interest in the car’s adventures in space dwindled, and we kind of lost track of it. Having just re-watched Voyager’s The 37’s episode, I got this sudden urge to see what the Roadster is up to now.

Last we heard anything about the car was back in October of last year, when it “made its first close approach with Mars,” flying at a distance of under 5 million miles from the surface of the Red Planet.

So, it took the thing more than two years to come close to Mars - a journey we all know takes far less than that, but keep in mind that the Roadster does not have thrusters or engines to move about, and does so only thanks to the nudge the Falcon Heavy gave it back here on Earth.

Presently, the car floats at a distance of close to 130 million miles (over 207 million km) from home, traveling at a speed of over 41,000 mph (67,000 kph). The data is provided by specialized tracker Where Is Roadster, which also says at the moment the car is moving away from the Sun.

When it launched, the Roadster carried with it a spacesuit-wearing mannequin nicknamed Starman, a Hot Wheels Roadster toy on the car's dash with a mini-Starman inside, a data storage device with a copy of Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, and David Bowie's Space Oddity blasting through the speakers.

If we were to consider the Roadster as a functioning car, then we could state the distance covered so far would be enough for the EV to have traveled all of the world’s roads close to 80 times. Bowie’s song would have been played over 355,000 times during that time.

Now, as with any celestial body, the Roadster has some rules to follow, and that pretty much means we kind of know where it will be in the foreseeable future. We also have a lot of records on the thing.

But, sure, even celestial mechanics can surprise from time to time, and the chances of the car coming back and crashing into Earth in the future are not out of the question (first nearest point to Earth should be in 2091, when it comes in at a lunar distance from our planet). And sure, records have a tendency to be lost, or forgotten.

So imagine this…

The year is 2371. A Bezos-class tourist spaceship approaches the Sun for its usual, high-risk, high-reward hot dive maneuver. Before it gets into position for what’s also known as the 15 hours in Hell, it stumbles upon a Cherry Red Tesla Roadster, floating aimlessly through the vacuum of space.

At first, the humans on board don’t know what to make of it. In time they’ll dig up the car’s past, and the tourists will forever remember the moment as “that time when we found a car floating in space.”

 
 
 
 
 

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