NASA's Mars Cube One takes photo of Earth and Moon

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But as a bonus (though not by accident - very few accidents happen on missions like this), Earth and the moon were in full view as MarCO-B took its antenna selfie.

The Mars Helicopter, an unmanned rotorcraft, will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission, now scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. One of then, called MarCO-B - and affectionately known as "Wall-E" to the MarCO team - used a fisheye camera to snap its first photo.

Now, we have another pale blue dot image, this one captured by a tiny CubeSat spacecraft, one of a pair that's shadowing NASA's InSight lander to Mars. But none of these tiny craft had ever ventured into deep space until the twin MarCO spacecraft did.

Most never go beyond Earth orbit; they generally stay below 800 kilometres above the planet.

Though they were originally developed to teach university students about satellites, CubeSats are now a major commercial technology, providing data on everything from shipping routes to environmental changes.

NASA set a new distance record for CubeSats on May 8 after Mars Cube One (MarCO) snapped a photo of our planet 621,371 miles away.

The two CubeSats, known together as Mars Cube One (MarCO-A and MarCO-B), are the first of their kind to venture into deep space.

To help us out, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory released a labeled version that highlights Earth, the moon, and various parts of MarCO-B.

Consider it our homage to Voyager.

The Mars 2020 mission is expected to reach our planetary neighbour by February 2021. Despite fog at the launch site, photographer Alex Ustick in California was one of many who caught Insight climbing to space. MarCO's design is a six-unit CubeSat - about the size of a briefcase - with a stowed size of about 14.4 inches (36.6 centimeters) by 9.5 inches (24.3 centimeters) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimeters).

MarCO will send data back to NASA about InSight Lander's condition as it enters the planet's atmosphere and explores Mars. "However, these CubeSat missions are not needed for InSight's mission success".

This artist's concept shows a close-up of NASA's Mars 2020 rover studying an outcrop.

The announcement by Bridenstine comes close on the heels of a last-week disclosure by NASA that it is planning the addition of another electric vehicle - a small electric helicopter - during its next mission to Mars. Plus, they might also demonstrate the working of antennas, radios, and propulsion systems that could enable future CubeSats to collect scientific data on distant worlds.

Later this month, the MarCOs will attempt the first trajectory correction maneuvers ever performed by CubeSats.

This maneuver lets them steer towards Mars, blazing a trail for CubeSats to come.

Capturing the Earth and the moon was a fortunate coincidence as the image was only meant to see if the antennae had deployed correctly.

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