'Selfies' are all the rage these days. Every smartphone is attached with a camera and to the Internet, so it was inevitable that our vain species would…Read More »
take full advantage of the technology, snapping endless photos of cats and, of course, ourselves. Selfies -- or 'self portraits' to the uninitiated -- have become such a cultural phenomenon that Oxford University Press has declared 'Selfies' their word of the year. This may sound asinine, but Merriam-Webster Dictionary balanced it out and declared 'Science' their word of 2013.
In the spirit of fairness, I've combined the two words of the year and applied them to robots. Yes, robots. Robots that explore space, doing science. And just in case you didn't know, robots can be pretty vain too, taking snapshots of their junk for the whole Internet to see. To narrow the field down a bit, I've only selected robots that have photographed parts of their own structure, or attached components. I've also allowed the occasional robotic camera that was deployed for the sole purpose of taking a selfie (nice effort, IKAROS).
The first robot that likely comes to mind is the undisputed King of Selfies, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity. The car-sized rover impressed the world with its selfie prowess when mission scientists released a stunning high-resolution mosaic of the rover in November 2012, only a couple of months after it landed inside Gale Crater. Curiosity achieved the feat by holding its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at (robotic) arm's length, taking a truly authentic "selfie." The world applauded this effort.
But Curiosity certainly wasn't the first robot on Mars to snap its own picture, and it won't be the last. Although the Viking landers that touched down…Read More »
on the Red Planet in 1976 didn't have robotic arm-mounted cameras capable of taking a "true" selfie, they did their best. This view from Viking 2 was snapped on Nov. 2, 1976, showing a part of the lander's deck, the American flag, the bottom of the robot's high-gain antenna and a boulder-littered Utopia Planitia, the largest identified impact crater on Mars. Stunning.
Staying on Mars, some amazing panoramic shots and top-down self portraits have been attained by NASA's epic twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.…Read More »
As you've probably guessed, commanding a robot on another planet to take self portraits isn't for fun (even though the outcome is a lot of fun), it actually serves a purpose. In the case of Viking and Curiosity, engineers on Earth can study the photos to see the condition of instruments on the robots' 'decks. As shown here
, for solar powered rover Spirit, using its mast-mounted panoramic camera was very useful for capturing amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding terrain. It was also great for keeping track of the build-up of Martian dust on its panels. In this photo taken in 2005, Spirit's solar array shines in the sun, having collected only a very thin layer of dust two years after it landed.
Spirit's twin rover Opportunity soldiers on to this day, exploring the Martian surface after nearly a decade since landing. Jan. 25, 2014, is its 10 year…Read More »
Mars "birthday" (mark your calendars!). Currently exploring the edge of Endeavour Crater, helping to piece together clues of Mars' evolution (complementing the science being done by Curiosity), Opportunity is no stranger to taking its own photo. As Spirit and Opportunity were designed to the same specifications, Opportunity can also take 360 degree views and monitor dust build-up on its solar panels. Seen here
in 2011, its once shiny solar array is blanketed with a camouflaging coat of dust.
Mars again? Really? No, robotic Mars explorers aren't especially fond of sefies, it's just that NASA has sent a lot of Mars surface missions in the past…Read More »
few years. Seen here in 2008, NASA's Mars arctic lander Phoenix took its own photo using a mast-mounted panoramic camera in a similar style to Spirit and Opportunity. It seems that the first rule of robotic selfies is: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Now for something a little different. In 2007, the European comet-chasing spacecraft Rosetta made close approach with Mars, coming within 1,000 miles of…Read More »
the surface, using the planet for a fuel-saving gravity assist. The boost in speed is allowing Rosetta to catch up with comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko -- an encounter that is planned for 2014. But during the flyby, the spacecraft managed to snap this iconic photo of Mars from space. What makes this view so special is that Rosetta also caught its own solar array in the shot.
Leaving Mars, we now head to Venus where, in 1982, the Soviet Venera 13 lander managed to survive the hellish conditions and transmit data for two hours.…Read More »
In that time it also returned some color photos of the Venusian surface. In those photos, the hardy lander was able to capture some of its jagged landing gear at the bottom of the shot. It may not be perfect, but while sitting in a pressure-cooker with a limited amount of time to return valuable data, it's a superb effort.