The First Song Played On Mars


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On August 5, 2012 (in the U.S., at least), NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars. The rover’s ongoing mission on the alien planet is one of exploration, gathering data about Mars’ climate and geology. Because Curiosity’s voyage to Mars is intended to be a one-way trip—we don’t yet have a way to launch interplanetary shuttles from Mars to Earth—the rover acts as a mobile laboratory, able to perform varied experiments while on Mars' surface. Some of those experiments require geological samples, so Curiosity needs a way to collect the samples and then move them into the lab areas of its confines.

To do this, Curiosity is outfitted with a group of instruments known collectively as SAM, which stands for “Sample Analysis at Mars.” The SAM team, from Earth, instructs the rover to create a series of vibrations which manipulate the positioning of Curiosity’s collection devices. In turn, those devices—now moving at NASA’s command—collect samples from the surface and move the dirt into the analysis area of the device. As a side effect, like any other vibrations, the ones sent from Earth to Mars result in a series of harmonics. Typically, the sounds are none too pleasant, and could hardly be considered music. But August 5, 2013 was a special day.

On that day, as seen above, the SAM team sent a sequence of vibrations consisting of carefully-planned peaks and valleys. Those vibrations weren’t intended to collect samples from Mars' surface. They were sent to mark the fact that Curiosity had landed there a year prior—in song. If you care to listen, that’s a screenshot from a NASA video available here, and you’ll immediately recognize the tune as that from "Happy Birthday."
So unless an advanced civilization lived on Mars long ago, or unless Elvis truly isn’t dead and instead relocated to a place a little further from the Sun, "Happy Birthday" was the first song every played on the planet Mars.

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NASA, JPL-Caltech
NASA Could Be Sending Autonomous Bee Drones to Mars
NASA, JPL-Caltech
NASA, JPL-Caltech

While NASA is inching closer to landing humans on Mars, a team from Japan and the U.S. is working on exporting something else to the red planet: robot bees. As Co.Design reports, the engineers believe their hive of drones, dubbed Marsbees, could be used to explore the surface of Mars autonomously.

The project is one of a handful being funded by NASA in 2018 as part of the space agency’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program. According to the initial designs, the Marsbees would collect data and images from Mars just like the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers do now. But the drones' small size and large numbers give them a few key advantages.

The Marsbees would be carted onto the planet by way of a conventional rover that acts as a roaming beehive. The bumblebee-sized drones would use flapping apparatuses the size of cicada wings to fly around Mars, capturing data individually or swarming together to analyze larger swaths of land. If one robot fails, there would be more to make up for the missing sensor, and after gathering enough information they could return to the ground-based hub to recharge and relay the data back to Earth.

The team still needs to perfect a prototype before the swarms of Martian bees can become a reality. Wing size is a crucial factor, since the atmosphere on Mars is thinner than it is on Earth. Once they have that design element in place, the engineers still need to prove their drones can take off, land, navigate through the air, and complete missions. They hope to tackle each of those points in the first phase of the project using a $125,000 grant from NASA.

Concept art for marsbees.
C. Kang, NASA

[h/t Co.Design]

Send Your Name to Space on NASA's Latest Mars Lander

Humans may not reach Mars until the 2030s (optimistically), but you can get your name there a whole lot sooner. As reports, NASA is accepting names from the public to be engraved on a small silicon microchip that's being sent into space with their latest Mars lander, InSight.

All you have to do is submit your name online to NASA, and the space agency will put it on the lander—in super-tiny form, of course—which will set off for Mars in May 2018.

This is the public's second shot at getting their name to Mars: NASA first put out a call for names to go to the Red Planet with InSight in 2015. The planned 2016 launch was delayed over an issue with one of the instruments, and since the naming initiative was so popular—almost 827,000 people submitted their names the first time around—they decided to open the opportunity back up and add a second microchip.

A scientist positions the microchip on the InSight lander.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

NASA is encouraging people to sign up even if they've sent in their names for other mission microchips. (The space agency also sent 1.38 million names up with Orion's first test flight in 2014.) You can put your name on both of InSight's microchips, in other words, as well as any future missions. The agency's "frequent flyer" program allows you to keep track of every mission to which your name is attached. Interplanetary fame, here you come.

You can submit your name for the InSight mission until November 1 using this form. If you miss the deadline, though, don't worry too much: You'll soon be able to submit your name for Exploration Mission-1's November 2018 launch.



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