NASA breaks record with new photo of Earth

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JPL built the CubeSats and leads the MarCO mission. The image, which shows both the CubeSat's unfolded high-gain antenna at right and the Earth and its moon in the center, was taken by MarCO-B on May 9.

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. As a bonus, the team captured the Earth and the Moon in the shot.

"Consider it our homage to Voyager", Andy Klesh, MarCO's chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement, which also included an annotated version of the photograph. However, Mars Cube One is the first CubeSat created to operate in deep space.

"Cubesats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone", Klesh added. 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.

MarCO will send data back to NASA about InSight Lander's condition as it enters the planet's atmosphere and explores Mars.

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

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Despite the "pale blue dot" photos' similarity, the two cubesats, known as MarCO-A and MarCO-B, are nowhere near as far afield as Voyager 1 was back in 1990.

The Mars Helicopter, an unmanned rotorcraft, will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission, now scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. The MarCO team wants the cubesats to help relay InSight's EDL data back to mission control on Earth, but this isn't a vital aspect of the lander's mission; NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will perform this relay function as well.

This first-ever image from the MarsCO mission was captured on May 9 by the "Wall-E" satellite, officially known as MarCO-B. The lander - whose name is short for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport" - will perform three different experiments to investigate Mars' internal structure and composition over its roughly two-Earth-year prime mission.

'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. If all goes according to plan, the craft will make four more flights over the course of a 30-day test campaign, each progressively longer and more complex than the first.

Going by the details shared by NASA, the electric helicopter will be affixed to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover.

"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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