The Secret Behind NASA's Adorable Nicknames for the World's First Interplanetary CubeSats

Monday, 07 May 2018 - 12:30PM
Space
Technology
Mars
No
Monday, 07 May 2018 - 12:30PM
The Secret Behind NASA's Adorable Nicknames for the World's First Interplanetary CubeSats
< >
NASA/JPL-Caltech
This past Saturday, the Mars InSight mission lifted off on its 7-month journey to Mars, but tagging along for the ride are two briefcase-sized CubeSats, the Mars Cube One duo, also known as MarCO-A and MarCO-B. The two little satellites successfully radioed back to NASA HQ later that day, proving they were operational in the cutest way possible: "Both MarCO-A and B say 'Polo!'" says MarCO mission chief engineer Andy Klesh. "It's a sign that the little sats are alive and well."

But even more adorable than tiny satellites squeaking "Polo!" at Ground Control is the reason for their nicknames, "WALL-E" and "EVA."

In the Pixar movie WALL-E, the titular schlubby-but-lovable mobile garbage compactor falls in love with the sleekly designed EVA. One particularly memorable moment is when WALL-E and EVA dance together in space, with WALL-E propelled by a fire extinguisher. It turns out that the Pixar people got the science behind that one right: the Mars Cube One duo use a cold gas propellant system based on the gas R236FA, the same chemical used in fire extinguishers. Since MarCO-A and MarCO-B are heading into orbit around Mars together, they're essentially going to be doing a little dance of their own.



The MarCO CubeSats are the first of their kind ever sent to another planet, and they're packed will all kinds of technology NASA wants to test to see if CubeSats can be used for future deep-space missions, including a "folding high-gain antenna," which will be used to transmit data back to Earth. According to Joel Krajewski, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory: "We're nervous but excited. A lot of work went into designing and testing these components so that they could survive the trip to Mars and relay data during InSight's landing. But our broader goal is to learn more about how to adapt CubeSat technologies for future deep-space missions."

If you're looking for another interstellar way to declare your love, consider that Pluto orbits its own moon, Charon – inspiring Jonathan Coulton (the lyricist behind Portal's famous song "Still Alive") to write a love song from Charon's perspective, "I'm Your Moon."

Science
NASA
Space
Technology
Mars
No
No