NASA shares CubeSat version of 'pale blue dot' image

Pablo Tucker
May 18, 2018

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.

When MarCO were about a million kilometers away from Earth - or around 621,371 miles - engineers unfolded its high-gain antenna to check if things were going smoothly.

InSight will transmit data during its entry, descent and landing up to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will store the information and send it back to ground controllers more than an hour later. 'Both our CubeSats are healthy and functioning properly.

For NASA scientists, Earth's appearance as just a minuscule blue dot was reminiscent of an image the Voyager spacecraft sent back to Earth in 1990, from several billion miles away.

The MarCO satellites are created to test the benefits of launching CubeSats in deep space.


NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which manages both InSight and MarCO for NASA, built the two MarCO spacecraft in JPL's CubeSat assembly clean room.

NASA said the image is meant to honor the "pale blue dot" photo proposed by famed physicist Carl Sagan and taken by the Voyager spacecraft in 1990. It was coupled with the NASA's Insight Lander and was launched on May 05, 2018. "We're looking forward to seeing them travel even farther", Klesh added.

InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will attempt to land on Mars on November 26.

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.

On May 9, the CubeSats were more than 600,000 miles from Earth.


The Mars Helicopter is a technology demonstration, and its success or failure will not impact the Mars 2020 mission. The Iris radio is created to interface with NASA's Deep Space Network, a collection of antennas at three sites in California, Spain and Australia that connect with spacecraft traveling throughout the solar system.

Artist's concept of the twin MarCO spacecraft - called Wall-E and Eva by spaceflight engineers - as they fly through deep space.

The compressed gas supply will feed eight tiny thrusters on each CubeSat.

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.

The Atlas 5 rocket intentionally targeted a trajectory slightly offset from Mars during the May 5 launch to ensure the vehicle's Centaur upper stage would not impact the Red Planet.


"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington via an agency-issued release.

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