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A red cent on the red planet: the story of a semi-rare 1909 coin on Mars
July 14, 2014 8:56 AM   Subscribe

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), aka the Curiosity Rover is something of a robotic geologist, so it makes sense to include the tools of the trade in some form, including a calibration target. For giving a sense of scale with smaller geologic features, pennies are often used for scale, as a common item with a standard dimension. But why is there a 1909 penny on the Rover? That's thanks to Kenneth Edgett, the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) principal investigator and an amateur coin collector who appreciates the history of the controversial 1909 V.D.B. Lincoln Cent.
posted by filthy light thief (19 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously: a great pre-landing post on MSL, but no mention of the penny.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:58 AM on July 14


I realized the other day that I regularly get pictures of Mars landscapes in my twitter feed.

Still digesting that one.
posted by curious nu at 9:00 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


I realized the other day that I regularly get pictures of Mars landscapes in my twitter feed.

@MarsCuriosity:

Rolling over dunes. The science must flow.

Two paths diverged on a Red Planet, and I, I took the south one, and that has made all the difference.

I like these buttes and I cannot lie. Checking out possible science targets.

So there's more than one character on this team.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:23 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


It's too bad the controversial part is hidden on the back.
posted by Big_B at 9:33 AM on July 14


Numismatists on MARS!!!
posted by blue_beetle at 9:41 AM on July 14


Now then, for your coin collectors out there, what do you think that penny, the first coin ever sent to Mars, will be worth in fifty or so years when humans go to Mars, find Curiosity, and are deciding what to do with it?

$0.01, right?
posted by stinkfoot at 10:13 AM on July 14


Cool little story. Thanks!
I have a few 1909 pennies, and none of them look as nice as the Mars penny.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:18 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Now then, for your coin collectors out there, what do you think that penny, the first coin ever sent to Mars, will be worth in fifty or so years when humans go to Mars, find Curiosity, and are deciding what to do with it?

$0.01, right?


Depends on the price of copper. A pre-1982 penny has about 2 cents worth of copper in it. Some people hoard them, betting that the U.S. will kill the penny and then it will be legal to melt them down and they can make a killing. (NPR, May 21, 2014)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:36 AM on July 14


never enough to fill the even more thousands of "penny" boards and albums with a yawning "1909-S V.D.B." hole

I remember those! It makes me very happy that these things still exist. I had a steel penny I found when I was 9. Good times.
posted by PandaMomentum at 10:45 AM on July 14


The articles are unclear: is this a 1909 VDB Lincoln cent or a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent? This is tremendously important.

My dad had a 1909-S VDB in circulated condition. It was the pride of his collection. I wish I could find my regular old 1909 VDB; today it would go for a pretty penny (pun intended).
posted by infinitewindow at 10:55 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


The penny affixed to Curiosity cost the engineer who worked on the calibration target about $5.

Sounds about right for a NASA buget.
posted by hellphish at 11:02 AM on July 14


It's not an 1909-S VDB, because then it would have cost more like $1,000. And there are pictures, you can't see any mint mark.
posted by Small Dollar at 12:02 PM on July 14


Sounds about right for a NASA buget.

Without looking it up, what do you think NASA's entire budget is?
posted by odinsdream at 12:19 PM on July 14


I think the reference was more to inexpensive items costing a lot for NASA (project) budgets, not the entire budget for NASA as a whole.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:41 PM on July 14


Seems like it could go either way; $5 for a one-cent piece (inflated government prices) or $5 for a critical piece of calibration equipment that could possibly affect the accuracy of every single picture sent from that camera (spending almost nothing on what bean counters might consider a superfluous piece of equipment, AKA "I just gave you a million for the damn camera and now you need a calibration target for it? For that price the vendor should do the calibration!").

Joking aside, it seems like the engineer paid for this out of his own pocket, and the target contains other color and size phantoms, so the penny is actually a nod to historic geologic practice (see the 1909 penny on the Rover link).
posted by achrise at 1:41 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Ken Edgett made many appearances during the first several Curiosity press conferences, and is a really intersting guy. He's very animated and excited and even emotional about his work on these historic missions to Mars.
posted by intermod at 1:50 PM on July 14


Future archaeologists are going to get completely the wrong idea about the dates of human space exploration.
posted by Rumple at 2:45 PM on July 14 [5 favorites]


Mars color calibration previouslies:

Does my tinfoil hat look red?
Bill Nye and MarsDial
posted by zamboni at 6:42 AM on July 15


In the same year, Roosevelt considered the impending centennial, 1809-1909, of Abraham Lincoln's birth, and thought it would be desirable to investigate using his image on coins, the idea encouraged by the proposal of another artist, Victor David Brenner.

Which was a huge mistake. Oh, for the days when U.S. coins looked interesting.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:35 AM on August 7


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