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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

National Selfie Day: Spacecraft self-portraits

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

21-06-2016 11:27 CDT

Topics: pretty pictures, pics of spacecraft in space, fun, spacecraft

It's apparently National Selfie Day. I'm not entirely sure who has the authority to declare these things, or why they decided we needed a National Selfie Day, but since the self-portrait is one of my favorite subgenres of spacecraft photography, I couldn't resist writing about them.

The unequivocal master of self-portraits is Curiosity, an often-anthropomorphized robot that can even take its selfies the way humans do, by regarding itself with a camera held at the end of its own arm. Curiosity takes self-portraits relatively frequently, nearly every time it drills or scoops samples from Mars to deliver to its scientific instruments. Here are six such self-portraits:

Six Curiosity self-portraits

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Thomas Appéré

Six Curiosity self-portraits

But Curiosity wasn't the first Mars robot to do this. The Mars Exploration Rovers also occasionally performed "deck panorama" images to check out the amount of dust covering their solar panels. Here's a comparison of two such Opportunity panoramas, before and after a dust-cleaning event when a gust of wind puffed the panels clean:

Before & after: Opportunity's deck gets cleaned on Endeavour's rim
Before & after: Opportunity's deck gets cleaned on Endeavour's rim
 

NASA / JPL / Cornell / ASU / Emily Lakdawalla

Before & after: Opportunity's deck gets cleaned on Endeavour's rim
Two self-portraits of Opportunity show effects of wind events that cleaned much of the accumulated dust off the rover's solar panels between sols 3538 and 3611 (January 6 and March 22, 2014).

And here's poor Spirit. I still get a lump in my throat whenever I see images of Spirit at Home Plate.

Spirit self-portrait at McMurdo, sols 814-980

NASA / JPL / Cornell / ASU

Spirit self-portrait at McMurdo, sols 814-980
This self-portrait of Spirit is a polar projection of the 360-degree "McMurdo" panorama made from images taken from April 18 through October 5, 2006, during the mission's second Martian winter. Unlike many other rover panoramas, this one is approximately true color, made from images taken through red, green, and blue filters.

Like Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity both had cameras on the ends of their robotic arms, but those cameras were very nearsighted; any attempt at self-portrait would be blurry. Spirit did attempt to use the arm to take a look at its own underbelly when it got stuck at Troy, but the view was blurry enough to be of limited use.

There's one more Mars craft that used an arm-mounted camera to take a photo of itself, generating one of my favorite pairs of images:

Phoenix self-portrait

NASA / JPL / UA / MPI

Phoenix self-portrait
On sol 116 (September 22, 2008), Phoenix used its Robotic Arm Camera to take a photo of its Surface Stereo Imager -- and vice versa.
Phoenix self-portrait (side view)

NASA / JPL / UA / MPI

Phoenix self-portrait (side view)
On sol 116, Phoenix used its Robotic Arm Camera to shoot photos of its Surface Stereo Imager, and vice versa.

Actually, just about every lander mission takes photos with some amount of hardware in the view. Phoenix, Pathfinder, and Viking on Mars; the Surveyors and other lunar landers; even Philae got a few bits of its own hardware in view after landing on comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. For these and other self-portraits, check out my collection of pictures of spacecraft in space.

Moving beyond landers, orbiters and deep-space craft don't have arm-mounted cameras, so they have a hard time getting enough perspective to shoot self-portraits. Here are a few examples. The first is a unique view of the instrument deck of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, taken using an instrument not ordinarily considered a camera, the Mars Climate Sounder instrument.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter instrument deck

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter instrument deck
Just two weeks after arriving at Mars, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured what may be the first-ever self-portrait from a planetary orbiter. The snapshot was not taken by any of the orbiter's cameras; it came from Mars Climate Sounder. This view was captured on March 25, 2006 in a mid-infrared wavelength of 32.5 microns. At the bottom of the view is the spacecraft instrument deck, which is below the MCS instrument. Mars would be above the view but is not visible here. There is a sharp and obvious boundary between the slightly warm instrument deck and the blackness of space. The instrument deck has a square shape, which is distorted in this angular-space view into a cusp shape.

Here are a couple from the Chang'e 2 lunar orbiter, taken in 2010 using cameras to monitor solar panel deployments and rocket firings.

Credit: CNSA / tv.people.com.cn

Chang'E 2 first orbit trim maneuver
On October 8, 2010, Chang'E 2 fires its main engine to reduce the size of its lunar orbit, as the Moon swings through the field of view in the background. The firing of the engine begins just after the terminator passes out of view (from the camera's point of view). As the spacecraft drops completely into the lunar shadow, the camera's automatic exposure setting adjusts brighter, making part of the spacecraft visible in light emitted from the glowing thruster.

Credit: CNSA / tv.people.com.cn

Chang'e 2 deploys its solar panels (video)
On October 1, 2010, shortly after launch, Chang'E 2 deploys its solar panels, an event witnessed by an engineering camera. In this video, a computer simulation shows the event and the position of the camera; then the video from the onboard camera is shown. The spring-deployed panels sway back and forth gently after deployment. After the swaying has damped, the spacecraft rolls and suddenly the brilliant ball of Earth swings into view. The camera's exposure adjusts for the brightness of Earth's clouds.

Our own Lightsail had a camera to check out the sail deployment:

LightSail 1 updated solar sail selfie

The Planetary Society

LightSail 1 updated solar sail selfie
This image was captured by a camera aboard LightSail 1 on June 8, 2015, shortly after solar sail deployment. It was color-corrected by Dan Slater to remove the camera's artificial purplish tint based on ground test images, and is a closer approximation to what the human eye would see.

And so did JAXA's solar sail, IKAROS.

Successful sail deployment for IKAROS

JAXA / JSPEC

Successful sail deployment for IKAROS
The solar sail aboard the IKAROS spacecraft successfully deployed on June 10, 2010, and was captured by one of the spacecraft's onboard cameras (Cam 1).

I particularly love this IKAROS self-portrait with Venus in the background.

IKAROS self-portrait with Venus

JAXA

IKAROS self-portrait with Venus
IKAROS took this photo on December 8, 2010, documenting its flight past Venus.

Lots and lots of Earth-orbiting spacecraft have deployment-monitoring cameras; I could fill a whole gallery just with those. But let's stick with deep-space missions for the purposes of this post.

The list above has been confined to true self-portraits -- images taken of spacecraft by themselves. It would become a much longer list if I added in photos of spacecraft taken by other spacecraft. But just for fun, let's loosen the "self-portrait" definition just slightly to allow photos of spacecraft taken by other spacecraft that launched at the same time. If I do that, I get to add in a few more iconic portraits. First is this terrific view of Rosetta, often called a Rosetta self-portrait, but actually a photo of Rosetta taken by Philae:

Rosetta Was Here

CIVA / Philae / ESA Rosetta

Rosetta Was Here
This amazing view was captured by the CIVA camera on Rosetta's Philae lander just four minutes before its closest approach to Mars on February 25, 2007. The spacecraft was only 1,000 kilometers above the planet. Part of the spacecraft bus fills the view on the left side, and one of the long solar panels stretches out across the center. In the background is the globe of Mars, the view looking down on Cydonia mensae. The original photo was black-and-white; this version is colorized.

Later on, of course, the two spacecraft photographed each other as they parted:

Farewell, Rosetta

ESA Rosetta / Philae / ÇIVA / Emiy Lakdawalla

Farewell, Rosetta
The Philae lander took this photo with its ÇIVA imager just after separating from the Rosetta orbiter, with about 10 meters of empty space between them. The photo includes most of one of Rosetta's solar panels, as well as some dust motes on ÇIVA's optics (producing large circles). This photo has been modified from the original to correct for an incorrect conversion from a higher bit depth to 8-bit mode.
Philae falling

ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Philae falling
This animation shows the Philae lander falling away from Rosetta from 10:24 to 14:24 on November 12, 2014, in images taken an hour apart, beginning about two hours after the spacecraft separated at 08:35.

IKAROS carried deployable cameras, DCAM1 and DCAM2, whose sole purpose was to capture a clear view of the deployed solar sail in space. IKAROS released them, they took their photos, and then they drifted away forever:

DCAM2's view of IKAROS

JAXA

DCAM2's view of IKAROS
A 32-frame animation from the deployable camera DCAM2 on IKAROS. The camera rotated as it receded, producing the apparent spin of the sail.

Here's a poignant entry in the list of spacecraft photographing deployed sub-spacecraft -- Hayabusa's last view of the Minerva hopper, which missed landing on asteroid Itokawa.

Minerva hopper and Hayabusa's shadow at Itokawa

ISAS / JAXA

Minerva hopper and Hayabusa's shadow at Itokawa
A photo of the asteroid Itokawa from the Hayabusa spacecraft on November 12, 2005 shows the Minerva lander (dot inside the yellow circle, and detail inside the yellow square) near the asteroid. Minerva was released and activated successfully but failed to land on Itokawa. The dark bow-tie shape on Itokawa is the shadow of Hayabusa.

And while we're talking about lost deployed spacecraft, here's Beagle 2.

Beagle 2 departing Mars Express

ESA

Beagle 2 departing Mars Express
The last view of the Beagle 2 lander as it separated from Mars Express on December 19, 2003.

But that's a little depressing, so let's close this post out with a few more fun views. Anytime you put a rover on a lander, the two can image each other, repeatedly. Recently, the Chang'e 3 lander and rover imaged each other:

Yutu on the road

Chinese Academy of Sciences / China National Space Administration / The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration / Emily Lakdawalla

Yutu on the road
The Chang'e 3 lander captured the four images for this mosaic of the Yutu rover driving southward on December 23, 2013. Yutu's right solar panel is angled downward to catch the glancing sunlight at a better angle.
Chang'e 3 lander in the distance

Chinese Academy of Sciences / China National Space Administration / The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration / Emily Lakdawalla

Chang'e 3 lander in the distance
The Yutu rover took the images for this panorama on January 13, 2014, during the rover's second lunar day on the surface, while close to "Pyramid Rock." Two Earth days later, the rover's motor unit failed, after it had driven substantially closer to the lander.

But my favorite of this type has to be all the times Pathfinder imaged Sojourner, and vice versa:

Many rovers on Mars

Dr. Carol Stoker, NASA ARC

Many rovers on Mars
This version of the Mars Pathfinder "Presidential Panorama" has been composited with many images captured of Sojourner throughout the mission. This provides a visual scale for understanding the sizes and distances of rocks surrounding the lander as well as a record of the travels of the rover. Several of the rover images were captured in full color. The rest were colorized using color sampled from those frames.
Pathfinder viewed from Sojourner, sol 33

NASA / JPL

Pathfinder viewed from Sojourner, sol 33

In fact, there's a whole wonderful gallery of photos of Pathfinder from Sojourner's dog's-eye view.

Have I missed any great spacecraft self-portraits, especially the true it-took-a-photo-of-itself type? Let me know in the comments! Or go on to enjoy the rest of my collection of pictures of spacecraft in space.

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See other posts from June 2016

 

Or read more blog entries about: pretty pictures, pics of spacecraft in space, fun, spacecraft

Comments:

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey: 06/21/2016 12:43 CDT

What was the first portrait of his own spacecraft taken by an astronaut in space? I've got a candidate. I wrote about Gemini 4 for the Vatican Observatory Foundation's site: http://www.vofoundation.org/blog/looking-back-at-gemini-4-literally-after-fifty-years/ I looked up photos Edward H. White snapped of the Gemini 4 spacecraft during the first American spacewalk in 1965. Then I realized that James McDivitt also took pictures of the spacecraft, without leaving his seat, because Ed White's visor was a mirror! So McDivitt's photos qualifiy as genuine mirror-selfies. Here's a link to the best one: http://www.vofoundation.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Gemini-4-reflection-detail-2-rotated.jpg Happy National Selfie Day.

David Frankis: 06/21/2016 04:55 CDT

The caption to the Phoenix picture says 'vice versa'. Does that refer to this picture: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/images/press/all_SS116IOF906510568_1D790RAT1_full.html ?

Ralph Lorenz: 06/22/2016 04:47 CDT

If I'm not mistaken, there was something of a selfie of Galileo by the NIMS instrument (possibly as part of the diagnosis of the failure to deploy the High Gain Antenna) : can't lay my hands on it right now, though. If one extends selfies to pictures of shadows of the vehicle, I think several early lunar landers (Luna, Surveyor) achieved this.

Squirreltape: 06/23/2016 03:53 CDT

There're so many... Surveyors, Viking, several bits of Apollo hardware (infamous adaptor-ring falling away etc) and now we have cameras mounted to the exteriors of most modern missions recording launch and their climb to space (ie, Shuttles etc)... the most recent being the last two SpaceX missions where the second stage cameras record the first stage falling back against the backdrop of the earth while that first stage records its own footage of its space-to-drone-ship landing... gorgeous!

Squirreltape: 06/23/2016 03:58 CDT

... and not forgetting Philae's landing-leg shots or when Cassini snapped the departing Huygens lander.

adolfo: 06/23/2016 04:09 CDT

And don't forget rosseta selfie with the solar panels view on the foreground and 67P comet's nucleus on the backgorund

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