Curiosity Mars rover could offer stunning views of Red Planet (+video)
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover contains the most advanced robotic cameras ever sent to Mars. If Curiosity lands successfully, it could send back never-before-seen images from the Martian surface.
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Before Mastcam lets those on Earth see what Curiosity sees on its exploration, another state-of-the-art imaging system will help with a crucial part of the Mars Science Laboratory mission: the landing.Skip to next paragraph
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Curiosity’s "seven minutes of terror" landing sequence is the most complex Red Planet touchdown ever attempted, as the rover will be lowered to the surface on cables by a rocket-powered "sky crane."
This maneuver consists of many steps that must happen exactly right and perfectly in sequence, including the firing of 76 pyrotechnic devices. Adding to the difficulty is the relatively unknown terrain at Curiosity's landing site, within the Gale Crater.
Researchers have studied images of the 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) crater taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, but small-scale features at Gale such as rocks and loose debris will have to be contended with. To help with this, Curiosity is equipped with the Mars Descent Imager, or MARDI.
A downward-facing camera mounted beneath the rover, MARDI will image the ground beneath Curiosity as the rover descends to the surface, giving an aerial view of the surrounding region, as well as after the rover touches down.
Like Mastcam, MARDI (also developed by Malin) will store high-definition RGB color images in an internal 8-gigabyte buffer. Many of its first shots are likely to be blurred due to vibration as the rover descends. Even so, MARDI should capture the first-ever video-like sequence of an actual Mars landing, Ravine said.
"We’re looking forward to seeing that," he said.
Data acquired by MARDI will be used to determine exactly where Curiosity has landed, as well as provide an "astronaut’s-eye view" of Mars – although in this case the astronaut has six wheels and weighs 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms).
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