Tiny NASA spacecraft snaps its first view of Mars

A dainty CubeSat becomes the first of its kind to take a Martian snapshot.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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NASA's MarCO-B CubeSat sees Mars. The planet is circled in this image.


A red pinpoint marks a big milestone for a small spacecraft.

One of NASA's twin MarCO CubeSat spacecraft took a landmark image of Mars as it heads ever closer to the Red Planet. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory shared the image on Monday, though the CubeSat originally captured the scene on Oct. 2, three weeks ago.

Each CubeSat is about the size of a briefcase. MarCO-A is nicknamed "EVE" while MarCO-B is known as "Wall-E." The twins launched in May as part of NASA's Mars Insight mission

These are the first CubeSats to venture into deep space, and NASA is curious to see if the low-cost devices will survive the rigorous journey to Mars. 

NASA intends to test the spacecraft to see if they can be used as a communications relay during the Insight lander's planned late-November descent to the surface of Mars. 

The Mars shot was a test of the CubeSat's imaging abilities. The planet was at a distance of about 8 million miles (12.8 million kilometers) when MarCO-B snapped the picture. 

"The cruise phase of the mission is always difficult, so you take all the small wins when they come. Finally seeing the planet is definitely a big win for the team," said MarCO mission manager Cody Colley.

MarCO-B got a look at Earth and the moon in mid-May.

Watch this: NASA's InSight Mars Lander launches from California