NASA has released the first images taken by the Curiosity rover that landed on Mars on the morning of August 6, 2010. After rover landed, it sent back some low-resolution thumbnails, followed by a higher resolution black-and-white picture.
In the first higher resolution black-and-white image(see 6), the clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing is open and part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen in the bottom right of the picture, near the rover's wheel.The camera is looking directly into the Sun so the top of the image is saturated.
According to NASA.gov website, the black-and-white higher resolution image was taken through a fisheye wide-angle lens on the left "eye" of a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance cameras on the left-rear side of the rover. The image, according to NASA, is one-half of full resolution.
Curiosity is carrying 12 engineering cameras that include eight Hazcams at the from and back of the rover and four Navigation cameras (Navcams) at the top of the rover's "look out" mast. The cameras snap black and white pictures from the rover's left and right stereo "eyes" which are then merged for three-dimensional observations, Space.com reports.
NASA says that once engineers extend Curiosity's mast, the Navcams will begin taking one-megapixel stereo pictures of the rover's surroundings, 360 degrees around. These cameras are capable of resolving the equivalent of a golf ball 82 feet (25 meters) away. The megapixel Mastcams have narrower fields of view, and will be used to take detailed shots of Mars. Larger color images from the cameras will be beamed later in the week when the rover's mast carrying high-resolution cameras is deployed.
The Navcams are designed to scan the Martian landscape and collect three-dimensional information, but can also be used to look up and down. Navcam photos will help scientists and engineers decide where and how to drive the rover, and which rocks to study closer with the rover's suite of 10 instruments.
Space.com reports that the first lower resolution images are part of a series of tests being carried out on the rover's systems to make sure its onboard instruments survived the journey through the Martian atmosphere. According to Jennifer Trosper, mission manager, Curiosity's first photos will help engineers fill in details of the rover's surroundings including its location and tilt. She said: "Ensuring that the rover is on stable ground is important before raising the rover's mast. We are using an entirely new landing system on this missions, so we are proceeding with caution."
According to Timelive.com, launched on Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, NASA's robotic lab traveled through space for more than eight months, covering 352 million miles (566 million km), before piercing Mars' thin atmosphere at 13,000 miles (20,921 km) per hour (17 times the speed of sound).
The craft, encased in a protective capsule-like shell, utilized a novel automated flight-entry system to sharply reduce its speed and then a supersonic parachute to ride into the lower atmosphere before a jet-powered backpack called a "sky crane" carried it to the ground, finally landing on nylon tethers.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity snapped this picture of Mount Sharp with its front Hazard Avoidance camera, or Hazcam. The photo was released by NASA on Aug. 6, 2012.
'Seven Minutes of Terror'Timeslive.com reports that after the rover landed, the nylon tethers were cut and the sky crane crash-landed a safe distance away.
The landing process involved 79 pyrotechnic detonations that released exterior ballast weights, opened the parachute, separated the heat shield, detached the craft's back shell, and jettisoned the parachute. JPL engineers say it was a delicate process and failure of any one of the steps would have aborted landing.
NASA officials dubbed the descent and landing sequence the "seven minutes of terror."
NASA engineers said the new landing system used by Curiosity was necessary because of its size and weight. Curiosity is more than twice the size and five times the weight of either of the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity that landed on Mars in 2004. Curiosity was too heavy to land on the surface cushioned by airbags or rocket thrusters as previous landers did.
Curiosity will spend the next two years exploring Gale Crater and a 3-mile- (5 km-) high mountain consisting of what is believed to be sediments rising from the crater's floor.
According to Space.com, the 1-ton, car-size rover is designed to investigate whether Mars has, or ever had, an environment suitable for microbial life.