About this Site

Robotic spacecraft are exploring Mars, Saturn and beyond. They send home pictures and discoveries almost every day. Use this site to ride along.

Riding with Robots logo

What’s this all about?
Are the pictures real?
Why are so many of the pictures in black-and-white, or in false color?
Why are there no stars in the pictures of outer space?
Why spend so much money on space when there are so many problems here on Earth?
Where can I learn more?
What about copyright and other legal issues?
How is this built?
Who’s behind it? How do I contact them?
How do I find my way around?


What’s this all about?

Robots! In space! (That’s even better than sharks with lasers.)

The golden age of space exploration did not end in the 1960s—it’s happening right now. It’s just that instead of astronauts, most of today’s missions are crewed by robots. These amazing probes, whether rovers or orbiters or landers, act as our eyes and hands in the dangerous (but beautiful) reaches of space. It’s an incredible time we’re living in. About two dozen spacecraft are now undertaking missions to Venus, the Moon, Mars, Saturn and the uncharted worlds beyond.

Since 2005, Riding with Robots on the High Frontier has served as a not-for-profit science education resource that tells the stories of these space-faring robots, the people who fly them, and the weird and wonderful discoveries they make about the planets—including Earth. You can use this site as a single portal to the very latest and most interesting stories, pictures and news. You can also join other friendly robot riders in the conversations, question-and-answer sessions and debates that spring up.

The Riding with Robots podcast was featured on the iTunes Music Store home page, and the Dashboard widget was a staff-recommended download on Apple.com. The project has benefitted from attention and encouragement from many media outlets, blogs and space agency staffers. After a two-year hiatus, the site re-launched in 2011.

This short video tells the story:


Are the pictures real?

Yes! (I know, cool right?)

They are as real as a picture you take with your digital camera. In other words, most of the pictures begin as signals from light sensors onboard the spacecraft. Those signals are translated into numbers that the ship’s computer beams back to Earth, where the numbers are reconstituted back into images (much like your own camera and computer do it). However, some of the images are not photographs, but visual representations of radar or other kinds of data. Those kinds of images are always labeled as such.


Why are so many of the pictures in black-and-white, or in false color?

All the better to see with.

Most of the spacecraft cameras take grayscale pictures through different kinds of filters. Scientists can build accurate color images by combining pictures taken through red, blue and green filters. Many of the images you see here are in grayscale because they come from raw image feeds that have not been processed yet. Scientists often prefer to study the black-and-white versions anyway, because they clearly reveal details of shape and texture. The same goes for the false-color pictures—sometimes the scientific needs of studying a certain wavelength or highlighting a certain shade trump the desire to see a natural color scene. Besides, the false-color shots often display their own beauty that borders on art.


Why are there no stars in the pictures of outer space?

It’s bedazzling out there.

For the same reason you won’t see any stars if you go into your back yard and take a picture of the full moon. It’s nearly impossible to get the exposure levels correct for both the bright body being photographed and the relatively dim stars in the background. That said, sometimes you can see stars when the conditions are just right.


Why spend so much money on space when there are so many problems here on Earth?

A good question. With many good answers.

Here is one. Here are a few others:

First, we don’t spend much on space as a percentage of the total economy. In the United States, for example, the entire NASA budget—everything from the space station, to aircraft fuel efficiency research, to climate monitoring, to Mars rovers—takes up less than one percent of the federal pie.

Second, the money we do spend on space doesn’t go into a black hole (thank you, thank you). It creates jobs. More importantly, it creates technology that leads to many more jobs. And it creates knowledge and know-how that benefit us all. It’s called R&D, and any smart company or forward-looking nation does it. Are you interested in the environment, transportation, communication, medicine? All of those fields rely day in and day out on satellites and other tools that resulted directly or indirectly from space exploration. Bottom line: going into space is about the problems here on Earth.

Finally, everyone benefits when we understand, appreciate and enjoy nature. After all, the Earth is a planet, so knowing the planets is one way to better know our own home.


Where can I learn more?

Visit these official resources:
NASA’s Solar System Exploration Site, JPLESAJAXA
and these unofficial projects:
Unmanned Spaceflight, the Planetary SocietyUniverse TodayLights in the Dark, wanderingspace.


What about copyright and other legal issues?

The text on this site is © 2005-2013 by Bill Dunford. It is available under a Creative Commons License, which in this case means that you are free to use and copy the text, except for commercial purposes, as long as you provide attribution. Unless otherwise noted, the pictures from space are taxpayer-funded public property (for example, see JPL’s image use policy). Nearly all pictures are linked to their original, full-size source. Some images are the product of additional processing by private citizens, and are labeled as such. “Riding with Robots” and the robot-in-cowboy-boots logo are trademarks of Bill Dunford.

The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole responsibility of its author. This site is not officially endorsed by any space agency. While every effort is made to verify information against original sources, there is no warranty regarding the accuracy or usefulness of this material. Downloads are provided “as-is” with no guarantees.

No personal information that may collected on this site will be sold or intentionally redistributed.


How is it built?

Riding with Robots relies on a mixture of open source and proprietary technologies, running primarily on the Mac OS X and openSUSE platforms. The toolset includes Bluefish, The GIMP, Cyberduck and Novell information management products. Some HTML 5 content is created using Hype.

The site itself runs on the WordPress content management system, using a home page designed by Bill Dunford based on the Bootstrap framework, and a modified version of the Responsive theme for the internal pages. Michael Dunford created the logo. The icons were created by Glyphicons.


Who’s behind it?

I’m Bill Dunford. I’m not a rocket scientist (clearly), just a veteran desktop astronaut. I produce Riding with Robots because nature is inspiring, the people who explore it are interesting, and I don’t think basic research gets the attention it deserves. But mostly it’s just fun to share these amazing stories and beautiful scenes with the people who visit the site from all over the world.

Riding with Robots is dedicated to the people at NASA, ESA, JAXA and their colleagues around the world. They are modern-day Magellans who work for civil servant wages instead of plundered gold.

Thanks for stopping by. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions.

Keep looking up!


[si-contact-form form='1']