1909 Lincoln Penny Used to Calibrate the Mars Curiosity Rover’s Camera on Mars

Did you know that there’s US currency on Mars? It’s true: when NASA’s Curiosity rover was launched back on November 26, 2011, one of the things it carried with it was a penny from over a century ago. The 1909 Lincoln cent is part of the rover’s onboard calibration target used to check that the cameras are working properly.

After landing on the planet, the rover used its Mars Hand Lens Imager — a mobile color camera — to snap a test photo of the penny (seen above) for the purposes of ensuring that all systems were working properly. The MHLI will later be used for taking close-up photos of things the rover comes across on the Martian landscape.

Here’s a closer look on the calibration target found on the rover:

On September 7th, the rover used its MHLI camera was used to snap this self-portrait (reminds us of Pixar’s Wall-E):

If you’re wondering why a US penny was chosen — it does seem a bit random, right? — it’s because geologists often put pennies next to rocks to show their relative size. The NASA scientists wanted to hat-tip the field of geology.

And it wasn’t just any old penny, either. It was a special donation by the man in charge of the arm-mounted camera: Ken Edgett. 1909 was the first year Abraham Lincoln pennies were minted, so the penny sent was among the first batches to be made. It’s a special VDB penny, named after Victor David Brenner, who created the design for President Roosevelt.

(via CoinWorld and Doobybrain)

Image credits: Photographs by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    If they ever bring it back, think how much it’ll be worth!

  • Think360studio

    Hi Michael. Nice article. But I don’t understand that why they use 1909
    Lincoln penny, because there are so many things to analyse Rover’s

  • Dave Marcus

    Ah, but is it a 1909 S vdb penny???? vdb is the initials of the guy who designed the lincoln head penny, and 1909 was it’s first year, and the only year that his initials were on the penny, the S penny (for the San Francisco Mint) being the rarest.

  • wasspencer

    Clever. Any martians that find it will assume that it was sent to Mars in the early 20th century, so they’ll assume that we’re far more advanced now.

  • James

    Because Martians know what year it is on Earth!

  • Michael Zhang

    I think it’s 1909 non-S VDB penny. The S would appear on the front, and the VDB on the back, right?

  • bobbyk

    I’d be very curious if anyone could explain the actual process for calibration using that SFR target and color patches.

  • Mr.New

    One cent?

  • 9inchnail

    Since they’ve been visiting us for decades, they just might.

  • Jim Birdsall

    Because Lincoln was one of the greatest and most impoortant Presidents in USA history !!!

  • Joseph Vignolo

    Undoubtedly several people handled that exact penny back in 1909 when it was minted. Certainly none of them could ever have dreamed where it would eventually end up.

  • Roysie

    christ…read the article…it says right in it that its a VDB…what a waste !

  • Roysie

    And not an s…

  • Eric Lieber

    They wanted to put a penny from a time when our coins were actually worth something. Most specifically, before the advent of the federal reserve company.

  • Mike McKallicuffy

    because now it’s not in some coin collectors folder of pennies?

  • asscheeze

    Wouldn’t that mean they know we didn’t send it in the early 20th century?