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 (“singing” starts at 1:20).
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.
Still, no one should be punished for pragmatism on their birthday. Here are some ways you can celebrate in Curiosity’s honor.
After all, your activities aren’t scheduled down to the minute in such a way that one 15-second song will impact the lifespan of your extremely expensive nuclear battery.
No one loves a selfie like Curiosity.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory last week released designs for the Open Source Rover, a scaled-down replica of the Curiosity that users can assemble themselves “from commercial off-the-shelf parts for as little as $2,500.”
A six-wheeled European rover that will go to Mars in 2020—currently called ExoMars—needs a new name (does it ever). Astronaut Tim Peake set up a website for suggestions. The final decision will be made by an expert panel.