Elon Musk's cherry-red Tesla Roadster launched on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on Feb. 6, but we stopped getting images from its on-board cameras shortly after. People are still following the electric car's movements across the solar system, however, through the Where Is Roadster? website.
"I guess we just want our Apollo moment," said Ben Pearson, builder of the Tesla-tracking site, explaining the fascination with his online creation.
Pearson's site shows the Tesla's orbital path and current position in space compared with Earth, Venus, Mercury, Mars and the asteroid-belt-dwelling dwarf-planet Ceres. He harnesses data from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Horizons system and gives updates on the car whereabouts, including its distance from Earth and Mars.
The most entertaining statistic is how many times over the car has exceeded its 36,000-mile warranty (currently over 550 times).
Pearson, an engineer who was involved with a student satellite program at the University of Arizona and now works in aerospace, says his biggest challenge in getting the site up and running was finding reliable data for the Tesla's location. Connecting to the JPL Horizons database fixed that.
Where Is Roadster logged over 500,000 page views on Wednesday. Pearson sees our interest in space exploration and an eventual human Mars mission as feeding the obsession with the space-Tesla. "This launch is arguably the coolest thing that has happened in our lifetime," he said.
When asked to speculate about the Roadster's ultimate fate, Pearson has a great concept in mind: "I think the Roadster will be captured by someone and end up in a museum somewhere, maybe in 2091, when it is supposed to make a really close approach to Earth," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if SpaceX does the capture in one of their BFR upper stage rockets."
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