Insight's first photo

Above: The first photo taken by the InSight lander. Credit: NASA.

InSight's First Photo

NASA: The Instrument Deployment Camera (or IDC), located on the robotic arm of NASA's InSight lander, took this picture of the Martian surface on 26 November, 2018, the same day the spacecraft touched down on the Red Planet. The camera's transparent dust cover is still on in this image, to prevent particulates kicked up during landing from settling on the camera's lens. This image was relayed from InSight to Earth via NASA's Odyssey spacecraft, currently orbiting Mars. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the InSight Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, Colorado built the spacecraft. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama [original NASA photo-caption].

For me, a basic Barthesian interpretation of this photo emerges thus ... studium: it's a photo taken on Mars! And punctum (that thing that reaches out and stings me sharply) ... the horizon-line not being straight and justified within the frame.

The photo was made by an $800 million robot, and so this "mistake" (being one which is so often criticized and noted as a sign of incompetence in amateur snapshot photography), is, in this instance, very humanizing. (The robot is like a child with its first camera.) Because of this, for me, InSight immediately becomes rather like WALL-E--a robot vehicle with many human-like characteristics and mannerisms.

And because of this humanization (getting the horizon skewed is more human-like than machine-like) I am suddenly fearful for the so-vulnerable machine. What if Martians do actually exist? If they do, the arrival of this robot-from-outer-space might alarm or trouble them. Does this WALL-E like robot have any means to attempt communication (in order to explain that its drilling mission is only "exploratory")? Or weapons to defend itself?

(28 November 2018)