We know that the the payload of the maiden Falcon Heavy flight will be... Elon Musks's Tesla Which will be placed in "Mars Orbit"

enter image description here

Assuming it is serviced and road ready when launched with the keys in the ignition...

100 Years later, someone plucks it out of orbit and lands it safely on a planet (Earth?), would it still be road ready? What if any service or repairs would likely be required to drive it?

Would 10,000 years or a billion years make a significant difference it is road readyness?

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    $\begingroup$ The battery will be empty. But I hesitate if this is still a space exploration question. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Jan 9, 2018 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ @gerrit think about all those bearings, plastics and other items subject to long term vacuum, heat and thaw cycles as it rotates with different sun exposures. Micrometers striking safety glass. This question is really about what happens when you subject machinery designed for earth to raw space. $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ @JamesJenkins micrometeors, not micrometers, unless someone launched a machine shop into orbit by mistake. $\endgroup$
    – Skyler
    Jan 9, 2018 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ I'll bet money you can't even drive it now. They have likely drained fluids, fixed movable parts, and taken other measures to make the payload entirely inert. Possibly removed the batteries, too. $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ "And how rich do you want to be someday?" "I want to launch my car into space." $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Jan 9, 2018 at 15:26

6 Answers 6


Making a car run when it's been stored on Earth for 10 years can be a challenge. Storing it in space makes things worse.

All lubricants will have evaporated. Cold welding is a possibility. The thermal environment is a variable. If the car + payload adapter tumble, the car will spend time in the shadow of the adapter, and you get thermal cycling which will eventually break up the electronics. The Roadster has a glued chassis, the glue bonds may fail at those low temperatures. The battery will be dead. Rubber (tires, seals) will degrade (it'll do that on Earth in 100 years, let alone in space). If the cooling system hasn't been drained prior to launch, the coolant will freeze. Depending on coolant type, the coolant may expand and rupture piping, and distort everything around the piping (batteries, power electronics). Radiation will degrade the electronics. The car could take micrometeoroid damage too, but at least the orbit it's in won't be as dirty as LEO.

Getting the car to run again will require a full restoration: it has to be stripped to bare metal, and every component tested. Expect to replace lots of moving parts, plus all the electronics and the battery.

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    $\begingroup$ Ionizing radiation, exposure to particle impacts... $\endgroup$
    – DevSolar
    Jan 9, 2018 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ Rubber degradation happens on Earth due to exposure to oxygen, ozone, and UV. If the car is in the vacuum of space (and protected from direct solar radiation) it will not suffer from these effects. Ionizing radiation would, however, still contribute to degradation of polymer materials. $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Jan 9, 2018 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ So... no, then. $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ Coolant? It's an electric car. Wouldn't cooling systems for the motors, batteries and electronics just use air (fans, ducts)? $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Jan 10, 2018 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ @AnthonyX Any electric system of significant power needs significant cooling. Tesla's cooling system does use liquid. $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2018 at 4:15

Let's look at some of the biggest stressors in the Tesla-Probe's lifetime-

Launch- This will be a very stressful time. The car will be subject to around 3g for a few minutes, in a direction that it isn't accustomed to having any kind of force. Luckily the unofficial side-view of the Roadster shows that it is almost certainly mounted by the frame of the car, not the tires. It should be able to better hold up in that configuration. It does seem quite likely, however, that there was some "damage" to get it mounted there, and taking it off, even today on Earth, would likely significantly affect it's impact.

Also, it seems highly likely that they did testing to ensure that the Roaster won't come apart on launch. The last thing that SpaceX would want is to have their publicity stunt turn sour as it caused the failure of the Falcon Heavy. They must have done at least basic testing, vibration, thermal, and even shock testing, to ensure it won't break apart. It is entirely possibly that there were some parts that were welded together to keep it together, such as the wheels. These would have to be undone to drive it again.

enter image description here

Thermal- The thermal environment will actually be fairly benign. It will be warmer then on Earth, but not subject to the sudden changes in sunlight that, say, a LEO satellite will face. There will be some tumbling, so there will be some variation in temperature. I don't think this will be a major concern. It is quite likely, however, that the whole "probe" will at some point in time be subject to high temperatures, in the vicinity of 40-50 C. This could cause battery lifetime issues.

Vacuum- As has been noted by others, any exposed liquid will be evaporated, and cold welding is likely. I personally suspect they will have removed any exposed liquids prior to launch, to reduce the likelihood of incident. The seats are particularly likely to have issues being in a vacuum. They will outgas, and probably not be recognizable as the seats that they are.

Time- The batteries will almost certainly be completely depleted and would need to be completely replaced.

Micrometeorites/ etc- Not likely to be much of an issue, but there will likely be a few dents.

Sun Exposure- The color will probably be off, and again, more damage to the wheels.

Finding it- It will likely be very difficult to find it in 100 years. We have only found 90% of objects 1 km in size. Granted we should know a rough trajectory, but just to give you a comparable task, we don't know that well where all of the Apollo hardware is. For instance, there is the "Search for Snoopy", trying to find where Apollo 10's LEM is now. We will only be able to track the Roadster Probe when it passes close to Earth, which won't be that often.

Bottom line, I rather suspect that this is a fairly heavily modified Tesla Roadster to get it to work. Glass and liquids might have been removed, items have probably been welded together for improved stability, all of which would make it complex to drive even if it was taken off the rocket today, let alone in 100 years. But sure, if you spend the time, you could probably drive it, but it would involve a lot of work and new parts.

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    $\begingroup$ Notice the sideview mirror on the visible side and the sun visor are still in the car. I have some experience with rough rides those are two points that are first to have issues. I wonder if there have been any modifications to car in the image. $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ They still could have been reinforced in a way that doesn't easily show. The visor is interesting... I can't imagine that many modifications could have been done since it was encapsulated, but maybe they did a vibration test with it on the payload adapter, and removed stuff? Could be between the unofficial and the official pictures... $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Jan 9, 2018 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ I do not think that acceleration at 3g can be an issue. Any car is supposed to withstand higher decelerations when crashed or hit, and not fall apart or leak dangerous substances. Racing cars may experience accelerations in any direction, caused by acceleration itself, rapid change of direction, braking, road condtions, etc. I suppose that the roadster is possibly not a standard edition, and has some tuning for that. $\endgroup$
    – TimSparrow
    Jan 9, 2018 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ @TimSparrow While that is true, they do it laterally, and they do it with some damage. Also they don't do it with any kind of sustained movement. Up is not usually a direction that cars are built to take high stress (Although thinking about it, I suppose they could just add in some extra weight equal to twice the base weight and see if it would hold together). It's already known that this is Elon Musk's custom cherry red Roadster, so not standard, but... I strongly suspect they did some work to make it ready to launch. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Jan 9, 2018 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ Hopefully there will be at least some sort of signal for telemetry (a la Sputnik) to address the last of the challenges you mentioned. It wouldn't be expensive to add (although if the lifetime requirement is 100 years, it might), and it would make the joke last longer. $\endgroup$
    – C8H10N4O2
    Jan 11, 2018 at 15:14

Would you be able to just jump in the car and drive it? No. Would you be able to get it roadworthy again with a little work? Maybe.

The state of the car itself will come down to how well protected it is in the capsule, it's going to experience some pretty extreme fluctuations in temperature which will not be kind to electronics that aren't designed for those sorts of conditions and the radiation levels it will pass through could do nasty things to the same components unless the capsule is providing some level of protection but even assuming that it's adequately shielded from any environmental concerns that would cause it to deteriorate such as radiation, space debris etc. then you'd still face most of the same challenges as any other attempt to park a car up for ten years:

  1. Flat tires - while you won't really have a problem of flat spots forming on the contact patch (because the car will be in microgravity) you'll still have the problem of the air used in the inflation escaping naturally over time (no tire/wheel is 100% airtight) so you'll have to reinflate them before you go anywhere. The rubber of the tires is also likely to degrade significantly over that length of time, maybe not to the point where you couldn't move it around but I certainly wouldn't want to be doing long distances or high speeds on them.

  2. Batteries - All batteries lose charge over time, and in 100 years the car's main drive batteries, any ancillary batteries and probably even the battery in the key will likely be either flat or in a really low state of charge. While it might have enough juice to start and run I highly doubt it and it certainly won't be going very far. Depending on the battery chemistry spending a large amount of time in the cold can actually do good things to preserve the condition of the batteries but cycling back up to hot and back down to cold won't do them any favors.

  3. Perished rubber - while it won't have as many engine-critical seals as a car with a conventional ICE there will still be things like shock absorber seals etc that will perish over time (the large temperature variations will not be kind to them!)

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    $\begingroup$ What capsule? I wouldn't think they'll leave the fairings on beyond the atmosphere. $\endgroup$
    – Joey
    Jan 9, 2018 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Joey I'd never really considered they would send the car through space bereft of any form of container.. although it's certainly possible I suppose (not to mention it's an amusing mental image!) If that were the case it would be utterly wrecked by 100 years exposure to micro meteorites and other debris. Plus the near-vacuum of space will probably evaporate off all the lubrication from any exposed suspension/steering joints. Basically it will be junk after 100 years. $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ There's no sign of a container. I'm sure the fairing will come off, so it's really just going to be floating in there, albeit with the base included. It may or may not still be attached to the second stage too. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Jan 9, 2018 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto which makes sense really.. after all the car isn't intended to do anything once it's up there so there really isn't any point in spending the money/weight protecting it. $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ "it would be utterly wrecked by 100 years exposure to micro meteorites and other debris" ? after only 100 years, it's very unlikely anything at all will have hit it - right? $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Jan 9, 2018 at 21:39

In addition to all the structural and electrical perspectives, there is also the possiblity of the firmware in the ECUs being corrupted due to cosmic rays. The automobile is definitely certified for errr.. to be used on earth and not-space-hardened memory will not survive space.

The car is going nowhere when the the mechanics and electrics are ready and there is a ECU checksum error :)

  • $\begingroup$ I've never heard of cosmic rays flipping bits in ROM but I can't discount the possibility. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Jan 11, 2018 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ it can very much happen. [link]en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_hardening $\endgroup$
    – A Father
    Jan 12, 2018 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ Well that link says EEPROM; which might as well be good enough. I can't imagine a car being made with true ROM in this century. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Jan 12, 2018 at 5:19


Silicon has a mortal enemy: radiation.
Space has a lot of radiation, including charged nuclear particles coming off the sun.

The computers, motor controllers, heads-up display, autopilot, and 1000 other important sub-systems in the car are driven by silicon.

While it might be a very good museum piece in 100 years, it is profoundly unlikely to ever drive again. .... assuming it doesn't blow up on launch.

After 100 years in space, the silicon based technology, not wrapped in very high atomic number materials, are going to be dead.

Polymers (think plastic cladding on wires) has "plasticizers", which make it elastic instead of brittle. Those are going to evaporate. Nothing made of plastic is going to be able to take tiny shocks after 100 years.


Chemical bonds are on the scale of a few electron volts (Chemistry). The solar wind's particles are on the order of keV, or about 1000x more powerful than the bonds (wikipedia- solar wind). Think about this like putting the device at the end of a kilovolt particle accelerator and ask about EMI/RFI consequences. In terms of particle interactions, not all materials are created equal, which drove the idea of "barns", particle capture cross-section, and thermal-neutron producing moderators (like carbon). (wikipedia - neutron capture) (wikipedia - thermal moderator)

I had a buddy who made dna-scale precious metal bar-codes by putting silicon at the working end of a cyclotron, blowing holes through it, then depositing alternating layers of metals. High velocity protons can blow holes in silicon.

Another buddy of mine got his work on the space station when he vapor-deposited tungsten on carbon fiber for super-light radiation protection hardware. What he described looks like this. Tungsten and other high-Z materials are used to shield electronics from total radiation dose.

Here are NASA links on the topic:

Here is an article saying how bipolar FETs die super early at super low doses of radiation. http://www.spacedaily.com/news/radiation-98a.html

Here is another, about power-down of satellites during solar storms because Van Allen belts accelerate charged particles. http://www.spacedaily.com/news/radiation-98d.html

Thanks James for the related answer on plasticizers evaporating. (link)

  • $\begingroup$ This seems like a good answer. But you don't have high rep here or related science sites. Can you add some references supporting your claims? $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2018 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ Related Does plastic evaporate in space? $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2018 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @JamesJenkins - "plastic" evaporates on earth. Things that evaporate in air, can also evaporate in a vacuum. Plastic is a soup. Think about a rubber tire. It is heterogenous. plasticizers $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2018 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ Satellites are wrapped in metal foil for thermal insulation, not radiation. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Jan 11, 2018 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbes - yup. But look at the insides. There is internal protection that is also metal, but different than the thermal stuff. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2018 at 20:34

Elon Musk is a man of his word. Mea Culpa:

FAA Launch License Including Payload

It would not survive launch. Upon orbit insertion, it would be a jumble of loosely assembled broken parts. Things would go downhill from there. If they are saying that they will do this, it is just a publicity stunt. Or maybe not a stunt, so much as "earned publicity" since they haven't actually done anything yet.

In order to substantiate this assessment, I spoke with two experts in the field of spacecraft design and launch. One is a Spacecraft System Engineer with multi-mission experience (PHD, MIT), the other is an Mechanical Engineer with experience designing spacecraft instruments.

Both had seen the press releases and pictures and both were incredulous. They expressed concern that during the launch phase the car would not be able to withstand the mechanical forces, particularly the vibration, and would come apart, endangering the launch vehicle and causing catastrophic failure.

The wheels in particular were called out as one egregiously dangerous example. In the pictures of the mounting, the wheels are neither supported nor constrained. They seem to be hanging freely by their suspension. During launch the wheels will be severely vibrated and would bounce up and down rapidly, stressing the suspension. The chances are good that the suspension will fail and the wheels would be set free to bounce around in the fairing like loose cannons.

Articles on this subject note that the FAA requires that a "non-traditional" payload undergo a review to make sure launching the payload “does not jeopardize public health and safety, safety of property, U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States...” including the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

The results of such a review are made public by the FAA (e.g., Moon Express Payload Determination). There is no news yet of such a review determination having been made for the Tesla payload.

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    $\begingroup$ Why would it not survive launch? $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ Note sure why you think this - objects and people get launched into space all the time without becoming a "jumble of loosely assembled broken parts", G-forces during launch are only about 3G or so. $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ rapid acceleration and intense vibration are specifically things that cars (such as the tesla) are designed to cope with, glass cracking is certainly a possibility (particularly on side windows which aren't as strong as say the windscreen) but I think it's a stretch to suggest it will result in the aforementioned "jumble". If the Falcon heavy can't (in normal operation) launch something relatively robust like a car then frankly they have some really big problems at SpaceX! $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ While this is a good point, it can be tested for on the ground. If it broke up, it would cause issues for the rocket. I have to imagine they tested it. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Jan 9, 2018 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ A tesla roadster is designed to accelerate at 1.44G during normal operation on the road, granted that during launch you'll be seeing more like 3-4G but the G-values the car generates itself will be nowhere near what the structure of the car can actually take (Crash safety regs will see to that if nothing else) and are more a function of the grip the tires can provide than a structural limit - it's not quite comparing apples with apples but a top fuel dragster will produce acceleration of over 5G and they aren't going to be that much stronger than a crash-tested consumer car like a Tesla. $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 15:36

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