Did You Know?
Alone on Mars, the Curiosity Rover sings to itself Happy Birthday.
There are myriad ways to celebrate a sixth birthday on Earth. Magic show. Pony ride. Temper tantrum outside a Chuck E. Cheese’s. But 34 million miles away, on Mars, options are limited. When the Curiosity rover turned six this morning, it didn’t even get a “happy birthday.”
Five years ago, Curiosity wished one to itself. In 2013, NASA programmed the rover’s sample-analysis unit to vibrate to the tune of “Happy birthday,” which it sang to itself on Aug. 5 of that year(2018).
While some headlines suggest that Curiosity has been humming an annual HBD ever since, in reality the song was a onetime occurrence. As Florence Tan, deputy chief technologist at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (and electrical lead engineer for Curiosity’s sample-analysis unit), told The Atlantic: “In a nutshell, there is no scientific gain from the rover playing music or singing ‘Happy Birthday’ on Mars.” Doing so uses power, of which the rover’s nuclear battery has a finite supply. Technically, singing “Happy birthday” to itself only hastens Curiosity’s demise.