NASA’s Mars InSight lander snaps selfies galore, including a name check for its fans

Alan Boyle
A photo snapped by the camera on the InSight lander’s robotic arm shows instruments on the spacecraft’s deck with Martian terrain in the background. The pointer indicates the location of two chips bearing the microscopic etched names of 2.4 million fans. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Photo)

One week after landing on the Martian plain of Elysium Planitia, NASA’s InSight lander is on a selfie-snapping spree — and the photos could be used as a guide for 2.4 million Earthlings and their descendants to look for their names.

InSight’s selfies aren’t meant to be a vanity project for the lander or its creators. Rather, they signal the start of a picture-taking campaign that’s designed to identify the best spots to plunk down the mission’s seismometer and temperature-measuring “mole.”

Pictures from full-color Instrument Deployment Camera, which is mounted on the spacecraft’s 6-foot-long robotic arm, will help scientist ensure that the spots they pick will be sufficiently level and rock-free to accommodate the first instruments to be lifted up and placed down permanently on the surface of another planet.

“Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace,” Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a news release. “By early next week, we’ll be imaging it in finer detail and creating a full mosaic.”

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One of the pictures shows the location of two dime-sized microchips documenting millions of names that were submitted to JPL for inclusion on the spacecraft. Each name is etched out in extremely tiny letters, marked in lines that are mere nanometers wide.

Another imaging device, known as the Instrument Context Camera, is mounted beneath the lander’s deck to provide a different perspective for placement.

JPL’s Tom Hoffman, project manager for the InSight mission, said the view will be a bit hazy, due to dust and debris that was thrown up during last week’s landing.

“We had a protective cover on the Instrument Context Camera, but somehow dust still managed to get onto the lens,”he said. “While this is unfortunate, it will not affect the role of the camera, which is to take images of the area in front of the lander where our instruments will eventually be placed.”

It’ll take at least a couple of months to get the instruments situated and calibrated for InSight’s primary mission, which aims to document seismic activity and subsurface heat flow over the course of an entire Martian year (or about two Earth years). In the meantime, feast your eyes on these InSight selfies:

A partial view of the deck of NASA’s InSight lander, where it stands on the Martian plains Elysium Planitia. The color-calibrated image was received on Dec. 4. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Photo)
NASA’s InSight spacecraft took a color-calibrated image of its robotic arm using its Instrument Deployment Camera on Dec. 4. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Photo)
NASA’s InSight spacecraft flipped open the lens cover on its Instrument Context Camera on Nov. 30, 2018, and captured this dust-flecked view of Mars. A rock can be seen near the lower edge of the picture, near a footpad visible at lower right corner. Located below the deck of the InSight lander, the ICC has a fisheye view, creating a curved horizon. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Photo)

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