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HomeTech/ScienceNASA's Curiosity rover takes pictures during Descent to Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover takes pictures during Descent to Mars

Written by Guy Webster and D.C. Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Earlier today, just hours after NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars, a select group of images taken by the onboard Mars Descent Imager, or MARDI, were beamed back to Earth. The 297 color, low-resolution images, provide a glimpse of the rover’s descent into Gale Crater.

They are a preview of the approximately 1,504 images of descent currently held in the rover’s onboard memory. When put together in highest resolution, the resulting video is expected to depict the rover’s descent from the moment the entry system’s heat shield is released through touchdown.

This color thumbnail image was obtained by NASA's Curiosity rover during its descent to the surface of Mars on Aug. 5th PDT (Aug. 6th EDT). The image was obtained by the Mars Descent Imager instrument known as MARDI and shows the 15-foot (4.5-meter) diameter heat shield when it was about 50 feet (16 meters) from the spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This color thumbnail image was obtained by NASA’s Curiosity rover during its descent to the surface of Mars on Aug. 5th PDT (Aug. 6th EDT). The image was obtained by the Mars Descent Imager instrument known as MARDI and shows the 15-foot (4.5-meter) diameter heat shield when it was about 50 feet (16 meters) from the spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“The image sequence received so far indicates Curiosity had, as expected, a very exciting ride to the surface,” said Mike Malin, imaging scientist for the Mars Science Lab mission from Malin Space Systems in San Diego. “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.”

The MARDI camera is located on the chassis of the Curiosity rover. Just before the heat shield fell away, MARDI began its imaging task. The images selected for early downlink to Earth were taken at different points in Curiosity’s final descent toward the surface. One of the earliest images shows the entry vehicle’s heat shield 50 feet (15 meters) and falling away after separating from the vehicle three seconds before.

A set of images demonstrates some of the gyrations Curiosity went through while on the parachute. Another remarkable set of images depicts the final moments leading up to landing, where the exhaust from four of the descent stage’s 742 pounds of thrust rockets billow up dust from the Martian surface.

“A good comparison is to that grainy onboard film from Apollo 11 when they were about to land on the moon,” said Malin.

Those MARDI images downlinked so far are low-resolution thumbnails, 192 by 144 pixels. In the months ahead, as communications between rover and Earth become more robust, full-frame images 1,600 by 1,200 pixels in size, are expected to provide the most complete and dramatic imagery of a planetary landing in the history of exploration.

The mission also released a higher-resolution Hazcam image of their target, the mountain in the middle of Gale Crater informally titled Mount Sharp.

The new image, taken by Curiosity’s black-and-white Hazard Avoidance Cameras – or Hazcams – can be found at: http://1.usa.gov/OLB3B5 .

This is the full-resolution version of one of the first images taken by a rear Hazard-Avoidance camera on NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT (morning of Aug. 6 EDT). The image was originally taken through the "fisheye" wide-angle lens, but has been "linearized" so that the horizon looks flat rather than curved. The image has also been cropped. A Hazard-avoidance camera on the rear-left side of Curiosity obtained this image. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This is the full-resolution version of one of the first images taken by a rear Hazard-Avoidance camera on NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT (morning of Aug. 6 EDT). The image was originally taken through the “fisheye” wide-angle lens, but has been “linearized” so that the horizon looks flat rather than curved. The image has also been cropped. A Hazard-avoidance camera on the rear-left side of Curiosity obtained this image. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Curiosity, NASA’s latest contribution to the Martian landscape, landed at 10:32pm August 5th, PDT, (12:32 on August 6th, CDT) near the foot of a mountain three miles tall inside Gale Crater, 96 miles in diameter.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, provided MARDI, as well as three other cameras on Curiosity.

This image taken by NASA's Curiosity shows what lies ahead for the rover -- its main science target, Mount Sharp. The rover's shadow can be seen in the foreground, and the dark bands beyond are dunes. Rising up in the distance is the highest peak Mount Sharp at a height of about 3.4 miles, taller than Mt. Whitney in California. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This image taken by NASA’s Curiosity shows what lies ahead for the rover — its main science target, Mount Sharp. The rover’s shadow can be seen in the foreground, and the dark bands beyond are dunes. Rising up in the distance is the highest peak Mount Sharp at a height of about 3.4 miles, taller than Mt. Whitney in California. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

For more information on the mission, visit
http://www.nasa.gov/mars and http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl

Follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at
http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity

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