NASA satellite snaps adorable Earth portrait on way to Mars

Federico Mansilla
May 16, 2018

The first image captured by one of NASA's Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats. One of the Mars Cube One (MarCO) cubesats, nicknamed Wall-E, snapped a photo of Earth from more than half a million miles away.

On May 5, NASA launched InSight Mars mission to understand the inner chemistry of the red planet.

This annotated view of Earth and the moon as seen by the Wall-E Mars Cube One cubesat identifies parts of the spacecraft visible in the image taken May 9, 2018.

Capturing the Earth and the moon was a fortunate coincidence, as the image was only meant to test whether the craft's antennae had deployed correctly.

"Consider it our tribute to Voyager", stated the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory chief, Andy Klesh, who make reference to the similar Earth-Moon duo images sent back to Earth by the Voyager 1 probe, back in 1990.

"CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone", Klesh pointed out. "Both our Cubesats are healthy and functioning properly". They are now traveling towards Mars in support of NASA's InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) robotic lander, which will attempt to touch down on the Red Planet on November 26.

Capturing the Earth and the moon was a fortunate coincidence as the image was only meant to see if the antennae had deployed correctly. If all goes as planned, the tiny satellites will relay radio data to Earth detailing InSight's descent and landing on Mars.

If they survive the extreme cold of deep space and successfully send the data, it may prove that smaller satellites have a place in space exploration alongside much larger, bulkier crafts.

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The Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with NASA's Mars 2020 rover, now scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.

As for MarCO-A and MarCO-B, they represent a premiere in the CubeSat's world.

These can include 1.5, 2, 3, 6, and even 12U objects. The small satellites are intended for low Earth orbit (LEO) where they perform a number of scientific research functions and explore new space technologies. Afterwards, communication relay for the InSight mission will be taken over by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The Voyager crafts have set numerous records since they were launched in 1977, including Voyager 1 becoming the only spacecraft to have entered interstellar space.

Each spacecraft carries a golden record on board - a record that includes sounds, pictures and messages of Earth.

'The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers, ' said Nasa's Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the science mission directorate.

'They have educated us to the unknown wonders of the universe and truly inspired humanity to continue to explore our solar system and beyond'. Voyager 1 is now 13 billion miles away from Earth, travelling northward through space.

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