On November 26, the Inquisitr reported on the epic Mars landing of the InSight spacecraft — the eighth robotic mission to touch down on the red planet in the history of mankind. But the story of yesterday’s triumph would not be whole without mention of another NASA mission, the trailblazing MarCO CubeSats known affectionately as “Wall-E” and “Eve.”
The pair of tiny satellites accompanied the InSight probe all the way to Mars’ orbit — a tremendous feat for CubeSat technology, which has never been used outside of Earth’s orbit until now — and made history just by getting there. Their journey took them 300 million miles from home — a spectacular seven-month voyage that has left us with precious mementos, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.
What’s more, it was the MarCO CubeSats that beamed back the news of InSight’s impeccable landing, calling home to confirm the Mars touchdown. According to NASA, their radio signal came through at 2:52 p.m. EST on Monday — and let the world know that the InSight lander had set foot (or rather feet, since the spacecraft has three landing legs) on Martian soil.
As the InSight probe was saying hello to Mars after descending on the dusty surface of Elysium Planitia, the twin MarCO satellites said their goodbyes to the strange alien world that they had the fortune of encountering, and took to space once again. While the InSight mission is merely beginning, “Wall-E” and “Eve” have done their part, and are now ready for an eternal slumber in the vast, cosmic night.
Just before signing off at the end of their incredible mission, the mini-satellites took one last look at the red planet below and snapped a final photo of Mars.
Described in a NASA Twitter post as “a farewell image of Mars,” the snapshot was taken just as the twin CubeSats flew away from the red planet — a few minutes after the InSight touchdown. Captured from a distance of about 4,700 miles from the Martian surface, the image was shot at 3:10 p.m. EST on Monday and serves as the triumphal swansong of the MarCO mission.
“So long, MarCO, and thank you so much! You dared mighty things, and saw them through. So proud,” the InSight team wrote on Twitter shortly after the photo was released.
The MarCO satellites are the first-ever CubeSats to venture outside of our planet’s orbit. Launched on May 5 on the same rocket that ferried the InSight mission into space, the briefcase-sized satellites trailed behind the InSight spacecraft — and faced many challenges along the way. Not only did they travel farther than any other CubeSat had previously, but they also braved the extreme radiation conditions of deep space and managed to get to their destination in one piece.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the purpose of the MarCO mission was to demonstrate CubeSat technology — and to prove that the tiny spacecraft could survive a long trip to another planet — and therefore have the potential of being used in future space exploration endeavors.
On October 2, the twin satellites set eyes on Mars for the very first time in CubeSat history — and snapped their first-ever photo of the red planet. As the Inquisitr detailed at the time, the historic Mars photo was taken by MarCO-B — aka the “Wall-E” satellite — from a distance of roughly 8 million miles.
The same MarCO-B satellite also snagged the mission’s final Mars mugshot, notes NASA, taken during the CubeSat’s legendary flyby of the red planet on the day of the InSight touchdown.
“That’s one giant leap for our intrepid, briefcase-sized robotic explorers,” said Joel Krajewski, MarCO project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “I think CubeSats have a big future beyond Earth’s orbit, and the MarCO team is happy to trailblaze the way.”
As JPL director Michael Watkins points out, “the experimental MarCO CubeSats have also opened a new door to smaller planetary spacecraft.”
“The success of these two unique missions is a tribute to the hundreds of talented engineers and scientists who put their genius and labor into making this a great day.”