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How much time will it take for radiation to destroy Elon Musk’s Tesla in space?

Credits: Screenshot YouTube / SpaceX

Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadstar has been in space for a week or two now, drifting in the direction of Mars. But after communication is lost, what will happen to this vehicle in the hostility of the universe? 

The image has been broadcast throughout the world, and will go down in history. We are talking about the image of the Tesla Roadstar, Elon Musk’s personal vehicle, which has just gone into orbit and is currently drifting in space. The new rocket, the Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful rocket in the world, loaded it as a payload. A Tesla in a SpaceX rocket: the perfect publicity for this whimsical and incredible businessman.

So what is going to happen to the vehicle and to “Starman”, it’s dummy pilot (whose name pays homage to David Bowie, whose song Space Oddity is played on a loop on the radio of the famously orbiting vehicle)? “I love the idea of a car drifting apparently infinitely in space, and which could be discovered by a race of extraterrestrials in millions of years”, imagined Elon Musk last year, who has been preparing for this unique launch since 2011.

So what could prevent this car from drifting in space for ever more, as Elon Musk would like it to? According to William Carroll, a chemist in the Indiana University in the United States and an expert in plastics and organic molecules, it would be partially the collision with solid objects, but mainly radiation which would pose the main risks.

Even if the vehicle manages to avoid all large collisions in space, there is little chance that it would escape impact from the numerous micrometeorites and other space waste. But even if despite all that, the vehicle is not destroyed, there is a strong chance that radiation will take care of it. While we are protected from radiation on Earth, it’s quite a different story in space.

“All of the organics will be subjected to degradation by the various kinds of radiation that you will run into there”, Carroll explained to Live Science. While he is talking about organic matter, he is not only talking about matter that comes from other living beings, such as leather. In fact, he is counting all the plastic in the sports car, including its carbon fibre frame. “”[Those materials] are made up largely of carbon-carbon bonds and carbon-hydrogen bonds”, adds the specialist. The stellar radiation energy could crack its bonds, and this could occur very quickly. Carroll concludes that he wouldn’t give those organics more than a year in such an environment.