We’re a few days late in wishing the Mars Curiosity Rover a happy birthday – it landed on the Red Planet on August 5th one year ago – so to make up for it we present Florence Tan, the team lead for the rover’s on-board chemistry lab, talking about how they transmitted commands to the rover so it could play “Happy Birthday” to itself.
It is at once one of the most miraculous things you’ll see all week and, in a way, the saddest. The rover sings using a set of vibrating plates designed to move soil samples through the chemistry module. While most of the signals are more “beep boop” than bebop, the module can also play notes.
Thus one of our species’ crowning achievements – a rover that is the very avatar of all of our best and most far-reaching efforts – sang a 120-year-old folk song into the arid plains of Mars. The fact that this little robot will probably never make it back home and is completely alone is a fascinating study in solitude but, what’s more important, that it is able to sing to itself by reacting to commands sent from Earth is stunning. We are, in essence, on Mars with the little rover and that’s probably the best birthday present we could get.