NASA satellite snaps adorable Earth portrait on way to Mars

Tiny NASA satellite bound for Mars snaps photo of Earth from thousands of miles away

The image, taken by MarCO-B or Wall-E CubeSat, shows Earth as a faint blue dot and the moon, sitting a little far from it, as an even fainter mark.

Almost 30 years after Voyager 1 sent back to Earth a photo of humanity's home planet, taken from several billion miles away, the two CubeSats, nicknamed by NASA engineers Wall-E and Eva, did the same, but from a distance of only 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers).

Just like the "marscopter" that the space agency is planning to launch on the upcoming Mars 2020 mission, the MarCO satellites represent a demonstration technology aimed to test CubeSat capabilities on an alien planet, as well as their resistance to the extreme radiation of deep space.

Mimi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: 'The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000ft (12,200m).

The Mars Helicopter, an autonomous spacecraft with a meter-long rotor and a body the size of a chihuahua, will fly in the underbelly of the Mars 2020 rover when it launches in two years, NASA announced Friday.

NASA's Voyager 1 took a classic portrait of Earth from several billion miles away in 1990.

MarCO-B, affectionately known as "Wall-E" to its operators, used a fisheye camera to take the photo on May 9, as part of a process to confirm that the spacecraft's high-gain antenna had properly unfolded. 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.

"CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone". "Both our Cubesats are healthy and functioning properly". They are now a major commercial technology, providing data on everything from environmental changes to shipping routes.

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

MarCO will send data back to NASA about InSight Lander's condition as it enters the planet's atmosphere and explores Mars. InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will attempt to land on Mars on November 26th. Afterwards, communication relay for the InSight mission will be taken over by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Because of the thin atmosphere on the Red Planet, the helicopter's blades will spin at nearly 3,000 rpm, approximately ten times faster than on Earth.

InSight won't rely on the MarCO mission for data relay.

Nasa intends to study Mars from the sky, with the help of a miniature helicopter.

If successful, it could be a model for scouting on future Mars missions, better able to access places that land-based rovers cannot.

NASA scientists weren't doing this for sport, but to see if the cubesat's antenna had unfolded - and worked.

"This maneuver lets them steer towards Mars, blazing a trail for CubeSats to come", the space agency stated in a news release.



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