After NASA's Mars Curiosity rover landed on Monday, it has beamed back the first color images of its new environment with 297 thumbnails NASA has processed into a video of the rover's dive through the Martian atmosphere.
According to NASA, 297 frames of 1,054 captured by the rover's Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) were used to create a stop-motion video of Curiosity's arrival on Mars. The video, according to The Huffington Post, provides a glimpse of the last minutes of the rover's descent. The first color images are of low resolution and the video assembled using them are of relatively low-quality. But NASA says the images will be further processed and combined with remaining images to provide a more fluid video of Curiosity's entry into the Martian atmosphere.
According to NASA, the MARDI thumbnails are just 192 by 144 resolution, but as communications improve NASA hopes to receive full-size 1600 by 1200 photos.
The video shows Curisoity's protective shield coming off and falling away. It shows Curiosity riding on a parachute and dust rising as it lands on the rocky Martian surface.
Mike Malin, imaging scientist at San Digeo's Malin Space systems, said: "The image sequence received so far indicates Curiosity had, as expected, a very exciting ride to the surface. But as dramatic as they are, there is real other-world importance to obtaining them. These images will help the mission scientists interpret the rover's surroundings, the rover drivers in planning for future drives across the surface, as well as assist engineers in their design of forthcoming landing systems for Mars or other worlds."
This is the first time NASA has successfully put together a video of a landing on Mars. The Washington Post reports that in 1999, the Mars Polar Lander carrying equipment to record its landing crashed into the Martian south pole after its engines shut off. Another attempt to record a landing failed in 2008 when operators of the Phoenix lander turned off equipment for recording the craft's landing out of fear that it could interfere with successful landing.
This color thumbnail image was obtained by NASA's Curiosity rover during its descent to the surface of Mars on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT).
Ken Edgett of the Malin Space Science Systems, the company that operated the camera, said: “It’s too emotional for me. It’s been a long journey and it’s really awesome.”
The Washington Post reports the nuclear-powered, six-wheel Curiosity will spend the next two years exploring the Gale Crater to determine whether the environment ever had the right conditions for microbes to thrive. It will also spend time at Mount Sharp where images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed signs of presence of water in the vicinity in the past.
Now safely on the surface of the Red Planet after a spectacular entry, Curiosity is sending back photos of its new home in Gale Crater as it begins its science mission.
According to Reuters, the first color image (see image below) was taken with a dust cover still in place and shows the north wall and rim of Gale Crater. NASA says the image was snapped with the Mars Hand Lens Imager's (MAHLI's) dust cover closed and the robotic arm still packed away. MAHLI snapped the picture looking out from the front left side of the rover.
First color image from Curiosity rover
The color image provided opportunity to demonstrate that rover's camera, the Mars Hand Lens Imager or MAHLI, was still in good condition. According to NASA, MAHLI is located on a turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm.
Space.com reports Curiosity snapped the photo on the afternoon of its first day after landing. Mission controllers label the first day after landing Sol 1. NASA officials say Sol 1 began on August 6.
Curiosity landing with parachute
Curiosity's robotic arm is still stored the way it was when it launched into orbit on November 26, 2011. The arm will be extended as Curiosity's mission engineers perform checks of the rover's systems.
The camera is designed to take magnified close-up images of rocks and other objects or wide shots of landscapes. When the camera comes into full operation, it will be used to capture fine details with a resolution as high as 13.9 microns per pixel (several times finer than the width of a human hair).
Reuters reports that the $2.5 billion project is NASA's first astrobiology mission since the Viking probes of the 1970s.