When spacecraft leave the Earth they are destined to either land somehere, orbit something or fly by a planetary object. And one of the very first things NASA does when a spacecraft lands on another planet is to have it take a selfie: “Let me see your wheels in the dirt so I know you got there safely.” Or “Snap a photo of your solar panels so we can see how dirty they are.” A simple selfie can tell a science team if an instrument is broken, say, or how close it might be to an object. Most spacecraft don’t have selfie-sticks, exactly, just an external camera in a location that can take multiple shots that the image team can then stitch together.
The team managing NASA’s Curiosity rover that has been on Mars for the last six years, depends on selfies to manage the health of the rover. The terrain on Mars is rugged and covered with what are called “‘ventifact rocks.” These rocks have been carved by wind and many on Mars are like thin blades. As the rover drives over these, its wheels get damaged. By using its onboard cameras, the team on Earth can tell the rover to avoid a certain spot and drive in another direction instead.
Grab your camera because this week we’re going to flip through an epic gallery of space selfies.