NASA is sending Wall-E and Eva to Mars. Don't fret though — these are not the actual robots from the beloved Pixar animation, but two robotic mini-satellites (known as CubeSats) which the U.S. space agency named after them, notes Newsweek.
The satellites are part of NASA's InSight two-year mission, which launches on May 5 and is very special and unique in itself, quite more so now that it's set to feature such prominent guests.
If you haven't heard about the InSight mission yet, the first thing you need to know is that it's full of firsts. This is the first-ever mission that will take a peek under Mars' surface and is tasked with studying the deep structure of the planet, along with its temperature and tectonic activity.
In fact, InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is actually on the lookout for Marsquakes (yes, there is such a thing!) and will be the first NASA mission to land a seismometer on an extraterrestrial surface since the Apollo moon landings, Tech Radar reports.
InSight is scheduled to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, which makes it the first planetary mission to take off from the West Coast of the U.S.The Wall-E and Eva satellites are hitching a ride on the gigantic Atlas V — one of the biggest rockets of all, Tech Radar notes — but they've got their own thing going on once they reach the Red Planet. Their designated job is to become relay messengers and keep us posted on the InSight Mars landing (scheduled for November 26) and on the mission's progress. But what they're really there for is to prove that CubeSats are ready to go beyond Earth.
The twin mini-satellites, officially dubbed Mars Cube One, or MarCO, are only about the size of a briefcase and will be the first CubeSats to venture outside our planet's orbit.
"These are our scouts," Andy Klesh, MarCO chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) from the California Institute of Technology, said in a statement.
And we're keeping our fingers crossed that they make it safely to Mars, considering that, as all true trailblazers do, Wall-E and Eva will have to brave extreme radiation conditions that no other CubeSats have faced before.After their 206-day journey to the Red Planet, the Wall-E and Eva CubeSats will be able to "stretch their legs" with the help of a compressed gas system and steer around the InSight lander to keep tabs on its activity.
This compressed gas is very similar to the one used in fire extinguishers, which is where NASA got the idea to name the satellites after the Wall-E movie (in the animation, Wall-E uses a fire extinguisher to dance around in space). And — you guessed it — they'll be the first CubeSats to break in this mode of transportation since all the others use electromagnetic steering to move around.
"CubeSats haven't had to survive the intense radiation of a trip to deep space before or use propulsion to point their way towards Mars. We hope to blaze that trail," Klesh said in the JPL news release.
If anyone's keeping track, that's three firsts for the InSight mission and two firsts for the Wall-E and Eva CubeSats. Pretty impressive.
Once it reaches Mars, the InSight lander is set to deploy in the Elysium Planitia region, just 373 miles from Gale Crater where the Curiosity Rover has been trekking along for the past six years. And that is where it will remain long after it has carried out its 26-month mission since it needs to stay in one place only in order to get accurate reads on Mars' "vital signs."