China's Yutu Moon Rover Back From the 'Dead'?
The Yutu rover as seen by the Chang'e-3 lander in December 2013 during the mission's first lunar day.
'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 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 outand 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.PHOTOS: Mars Through Curiosity's Powerful MAHLI Camera
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 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.
PHOTOS: Alien Robots That Left Their Mark on Mars
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. As you've probably guessed, commanding a robot on another planet to take self portraits isn't for fun (even though the outcome
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.NEWS: 9 Years Later: Remembering Mars Rover Spirit
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 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.NEWS: Opportunity Finds More Hints of Mars Habitability
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 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.PHOTOS: Phoenix Mars Lander's First Images
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 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 makesthis view
so special is that Rosetta also caught its own solar array in the shot.ANALYSIS: Advice to Rosetta: Maybe She's Just Not That Into You
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. 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.ANALYSIS: When the Veneras Challenged Venus' Hellish Atmosphere
In a video released by the Chinese Space Agency of the Chang'e 2 lunar orbiter in 2010, the view shortly after launch was captured by a camera overseeing the deployment of the mission's solar panels.Courtesy of the Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla
, the video in its entiretycan be watched on Youtube
Whoa! What's that huge UFO that photobombs the shot?
Oh, that's Earth.ANALYSIS: Chinese Probe Buzzes Asteroid Toutatis
The Japanese Hayabusa asteroid sample return mission got a little creative with this selfie effort. In 2005, as it approached near-Earth asteroid Itokawa, with the sun at its back the mission snapped its shadow falling on the sunlit asteroid surface.
for leading me to Hayabusa!
VIDEO: NASA Aircraft Videos Hayabusa Re-Entry
In 2010, the Japanese space agency JAXA launched a pioneering mission. Using only the sun's energy for propulsion, the Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun, or IKAROS, probe set sail through interplanetary space for a January 2011 rendezvous with the planet Venus. After the solar sail was launched, two miniature wireless cameras were ejected by IKAROS as it deployed in Earth orbit,returning this admirable "hands free" self portrait
. Then, as IKAROS reached its destination eight months later, it took a snapshot of a crescent Venus (inset). (Thank youEmily Lakdawalla
for reminding me about these stunning IKAROS photos!)
Special thanks to all my Twitter buddies who engaged in Wednesday evening's conversation about robot selfies!
Can you think of more space mission "selfies"? Feel free to share them in the comments below.
China's troubled Jade Rabbit lunar rover has survived a bitterly cold 14-day lunar night, officials said on Thursday, prompting hopes it can be repaired after suffering a malfunction last month.
The problem was a setback for Beijing's ambitious military-run space program, which includes plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually sending a human to the moon.
"The rover stands a chance of being saved as it is still alive," Pei Zhaoyu, spokesman for China's lunar probe programme told the official news agency Xinhua.
An earlier report by the semi-official China News Service said an attempt to restore the vehicle to full functionality on Monday had been unsuccessful.
The rover, named Yutu or Jade Rabbit after the pet of Chang'e, the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology, experienced a "mechanical control abnormality" as the lunar night fell on Jan. 25, provoking an outpouring of sympathy from Chinese Internet users.
Scientists had been concerned it might not be able to survive the extremely low temperatures of the lunar night, when it was supposed to remain dormant, but it was now receiving signals normally, Xinhua cited Pei as saying.
"Yutu has come back to life!", he said, adding that the rover "went into sleep under an abnormal status".
Experts were still working to establish the causes of its mechanical control abnormality, the agency reported, without giving details.
Australia-based independent space expert Morris Jones told AFP that the problem involved a solar panel on the rover failing to close.
"This allowed heat to escape from the rover in the cold lunar night. The cold has probably damaged some parts of the rover permanently, but it seems that some parts are still working," he said.
Beijing sees the space program as a symbol of China's rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party's success in reversing the fortunes of the once-impoverished nation.
The Jade Rabbit was deployed on the moon's surface on December 15, several hours after the Chang'e-3 probe landed.
The landing -- the third such soft-landing in history, and the first of its kind since the Soviet Union's mission nearly four decades ago -- was a huge source of pride in China, where millions across the country charted the rover's accomplishments.
An unverified Weibo user "Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover", which has posted first-person accounts in the voice of the probe, on Thursday made its first update since January.
"Hi, anybody there?" it said, prompting thousands of comments within minutes.
"I have missed you rabbit! Glad you are back!" said one poster, with another adding: "Yutu - you have finally woken. This is great!"
Xinhua has said the account is "believed to belong to space enthusiasts who have been following Yutu's journey to the moon".
In a previous online posting following the "abnormality", it said: "The sun here has fallen, and the temperature is dropping fast. I've said a lot today, but I still feel it's not enough.
"I'll tell everyone a little secret. I'm actually not that sad. I'm just in my own adventure story, and like any protagonist, I encountered a bit of a problem. Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humans."
More than 6,000 Internet users wrote messages in response, many of them expressing hope that the rover had not seen its last day.
"We'll always remember that you're watching us on the moon," wrote one poster. "One day, we'll bring you home."
China first sent an astronaut into space a decade ago and is the third country to carry out a lunar rover mission after the United States and the former Soviet Union.
The central government has said the latest mission was "a milestone in the development of China's aerospace industry under the leadership of... Comrade Xi Jinping".