How NASA’s Perseverance rover captured its iconic selfie

Earlier this year, NASA released a now-iconic image of the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars. The Perseverance selfie showed the rover with the Ingenuity helicopter nearby, and the tracks the rover had left in the Martian regolith.

Now, NASA has revealed more information about how a rover captures a selfie, including video and audio of the rover getting ready for its big photoshoot.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter, seen here about 13 feet (3.9 meters) from the rover. This image was taken by the WASTON camera on the rover’s robotic arm on April 6, 2021, the 46th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The image was taken using the WATSON camera, which is, delightfully enough, part of the SHERLOC instrument which sits at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. SHERLOC is designed to investigate minerals on Mars, using methods like spectroscopy as well as images. The WATSON camera takes close-up images of rock textures to help identify geological features.

That means WATSON can’t take a photo of the whole rover at once, as it’s too zoomed in. So to create the selfie, the rover team took 62 individual images of different parts of the rover and stitched them together into a mosaic. But that meant the camera had to take all of the images from different angles, which required the arm to move around considerably — which is why it took more than an hour to capture all the required images. And it took a whole team of NASA scientists working for a week to process and present the image in its final form.

The selfie isn’t only for fun. It also gives the engineers a way to check on the rover, to make sure everything looks healthy and there isn’t any wear and tear. In addition, they used the rover’s onboard microphones to record the sound of the arm moving, which can also help provide a check of the rover’s health.

But one of the selfie’s most important jobs is to inspire interest in Mars exploration. One of the members of the rover team, Vandi Verma, Perseverance’s chief engineer for robotic operations, said she was inspired to work at NASA because of images from early Mars missions. Now she has helped to created selfies from both the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.

“I got into this because I saw a picture from Sojourner, NASA’s first Mars rover,” Verma said. “When we took that first selfie, we didn’t realize these would become so iconic and routine.”

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