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Mars Curiosity's first images (nasa.gov)
592 points by suprgeek on Aug 6, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 168 comments

From a screen recording I took: http://i.imgur.com/C5Y6P.jpg

I actually shed a tear. That was beautiful.

Edit: Raw images being put on Twitter by NASA:




After loving the emotional response from the team, I actually opened one of these images in my browser and it hit me: there are bits in the memory of my computer right now that are a function of bits on Mars.

More news Here: http://goo.gl/325Mu

Is that... a Tcl/Tk app being run in GNOME?

Pretty sure the GUI toolkit is Motif, window borders do look like gnome though.

Yes GNOME with metacity window manager https://twitter.com/jdub/status/232350347404918784

That was my thought as well as I was watching the coverage. Not surprising given there are a lot of old school engineers at NASA/JPL.

Here is the answer, it was written quite a while ago judging by the missions it has been used on: http://www.techbriefs.com/component/content/article/5697

Hey, if it does the job... The CPU on the Rover is from 2001.

Everything has to work, so I rarely begrudge them somewhat dated tech.

I'm not begrudging anything, I'm just surprised I could recognize any of what they're using. :)

Here's the article about Tcl and Pathfinder:


Maybe the legendary Xv they used on Sojourney?

(by the photo looks like something like it, stil...)

Photo says it's xvd. Some sort of custom tool: http://www-mipl.jpl.nasa.gov/vicar/vicar300/html/vichelp/xvd...

I took those during landing sequence..





edit: its just fun to watch those. also, according to NASA there is 500,000 lines of code behind those 38 steps.. would love to see some parts of it!

That is the first time I've seen a real-life useful computer display actually look like something they dream up in the movies.

(counterexamples welcome!)

Life imitating art.

There was an IAMA on reddit many moons ago by a guy who designed those screens. Obviously they use real life examples and embellish.

I'd be interested to read that; could you edit a link into your comment? My Google-fu is failing me...

Yeah I can't find it either.

Here's a request where a guy pipes up:


A guy who did the graphics for Moon


But neither are the one I'm thinking of sorry. :(

Never knew there was a name for these -- FUIs (Fake User Interface). There's even a whole subreddit dedicated to them: http://www.reddit.com/r/FUI/

Wow, thanks for the reddit link, I would never have found that.

Public version of that software is here: http://eyes.nasa.gov/

That's really cool. Would love it if they had some video, or alternatively made a visualization of the entire landing sequence using received data. Like for instance a video of the telemetry you took screenshots of.

An excellent, data-rich visualization was done for the Huygens probe that landed on Saturn's moon Titan as part of the Cassini-Huygens mission: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia0811...

Exactly something like that I am looking for, thanks

I believe there will be video from the perspective of the crane throughout the landing.

That's amazing, I can't wait to see that :)

yes. or at least upload full video-stream of those screenshots. hope to see this on yt soon!

I missed the landing sequence. Is there a video recording available somewhere ?

Why are these not games yet?

HN has dozens of people capable of creating a nice lunar lander / mars lander sim.

NASA unveiled their Mars Rover Landing game for XBOX+Kinect very recently:

* http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.cfm?id=1094

* http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Product/Mars-Rover-Landing...

State #38: "Done"

I can't help but share the headline in The New Yorker's Fake News & Political Satire section: "Mars Rover Should Not Get So Much Attention, Say Higgs-Boson Scientists."[1]

Humor aside, this is a sign that we're living in interesting times: two major human achievements occurring within a few weeks of each other. All I can say is, wow. I love it.


[1] http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2012/08...

Extend your time window just a bit, and the number increases to 3:

- Mars rover

- Higss boson

- First commercial docking with ISS

Major human achievement? IIRC there have been rovers landed on Mars before numerous times.

My god, the energy in that room was amazing. Just watching how happy they were was worth staying up late for.

"Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?"

I figured a paraphrasing along the lines of "Do you want to sell shiny phones..." or "Do you want to work on ways to share cat pictures..." would be more appropriate.

My shiny phone has added enormous value to my life. Cat pictures not so much.

No, it wouldn't.

Or another world, as it were, in this case.

So glad I watched. Anyone else hear the F bomb and 'Holy Shit'?

I liked that bit. Drove home the humanity of the people who had just accomplished something that only a few thousand years ago was thought to be in the domain of gods.

That we as a species have come so far but still retain our sense of self is fantastic.

Hundred. A few hundred years ago.

Even still you're overestimating the science education -- or even the willingness to believe the science education they did receive is credible -- of modern society.

Depressing, but true.

I loved the humor from the MarsCuriosity Twitter account too.


You could totally they were having a great time there.

My favourite one is "Cruise stage separation complete. So long & thanks for all the navigation."

There must've been some cathartic cursing in NASA mission control in 1969, right? They just didn't stream it live...


"Far better it is, to dare mighty things,

to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure

than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much

because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

Fantastic quote, I think that symbolises what NASA have accomplished, and what inspiration it should bring to everyone who knows about it.

In 3D: http://i.imgur.com/PyxeK.jpg

Edit: colorized version as it might look on Earth, with significant artistic license taken (the Martian sky is less interesting [0]): http://i.imgur.com/oRCVX.jpg (updated with wheel colors)

I've distorted and level adjusted the images to my aesthetic taste, and assembled the rear hazcam images into a stereo pair for RDS-style viewing. Zoom out in your browser or image viewer, get close-ish to the screen, then look through the monitor until the red dots (or any other parts of the images) are in alignment. Continue to zoom in or out until your eyes are somewhat comfortable.

It is a privilege to be one of the first human beings to see this section of Mars in 3D photos.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_surface_color

Correction: I used the front hazcam images from http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/

It's times like this that I think everyone can be proud to be part of the human race.

Personally, I think the tax payers of the United States deserve a round of applause from the rest of us for funding such a mission. It's not that other countries can't do this - we just don't want to pay for it...

Don't clap too long, NASA has long been on the funding chopping block, and there are far too many who would like to see it eliminated completely. They don't care that they are putting vehicles on Mars. They're too myopic to even think about what the future might look like.

2.5 billion dollars to put Curiosity on Mars. That's is a little more than double of what NBC paid to air the Olympics[1]. Imagine what they could do if we doubled their budget from half a percent of the federal budget[2] to 1%.

1. http://sports.yahoo.com/news/olympics-fans-ways-circumvent-n...

2. http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/622643main_FY%2013%20Budget%20Presen...

So the UK could have had 6 Curiosity rovers for the price of the Olympics....

NB I do think the Olympics has been a good thing - but I do wonder about the value for money....

That the price was 10 billion does not mean the cost was that. They might even make a profit since they sell the sponsorships, broadcasting rights and tickets not to mention the stimulus of the local economy.

Sinking 2 billion into something that yields no direct monetary profit, that's a bold move for any country. They did not even sell broadcasting rights!

Somehow I suspect the long-term economic benefits of investing in the technology capable of sending the Curiosity rover to Mars are greater than those from building some sports buildings that are pretty much exactly the same as some built 4 years ago in another city and will be repeated again in another 4 years in some other city.

> Sinking 2 billion into something that yields no direct monetary profit, that's a bold move for any country.

Correct that there is no direct return on investment. However, some experts have claimed for every dollar spent on the Apollo program, we got $10 back in public benefit. It's really difficult to measure this stuff accurately, but the point to take away is that there is quite a lot to gained in technology, PR, and cash by doing inspiring & challenging science.

That’s why solving hard technical problems can be a good business move—it’s not necessarily the solutions themselves, but the by-products of creating those solutions that have lasting value.

>Sinking 2 billion into something that yields no direct monetary profit, that's a bold move for any country.

You need to look at what is spun off from the projects. If you look at that I'm sure the 2 billion will seem like a pitance.


Space exploration is not a war between "funding" and "they." Consider what you can do in your home or with your friends to advance space exploration instead of cheering on abstract forces with vague connections to real knowledge, drive and accomplishment.

You're sadly mistaken if you think space exploration isn't dependent on funding, and that that funding is in constant danger of being slashed.

As far as "what you can do in your home ... to advance space exploration" pretty sure contacting my congresspeople and telling them that funding for NASA is important to me is the best thing I can do.

I believe it is dependent on funding and you are doing space exploration harm by abstracting it down to percentages of budgets vaguely spent, as if it's a progress bar in a Zynga game that only needs to be filled.

There are many things you can do to help with space exploration. Get others excited about physics/astronomy/engineering, conduct your own rocket research and involve your family/neighbors, run/participate in distributed projects to quantify and discover items in space. Right now you are not able to see the connection between how you spend your time and what happens at NASA; this is a path to understanding how the collective individual actions of real people make these things happen, happen more often and in a better way.

Certainly also write to your representatives, but please make it personal and not abstract and give it as much weight of experience and knowledge as possible.

> I believe it is dependent on funding and you are doing space exploration harm by abstracting it down to percentages of budgets vaguely spent, as if it's a progress bar in a Zynga game that only needs to be filled.

Are you trying to sound like a smug prick?

> There are many things you can do to help with space exploration. Get others excited about physics/astronomy/engineering, conduct your own rocket research ..

Uh, ok. I am not interested in rocket research as an avenue for my own self-education, and I don't have time in my life to "run/participate in distributed projects to quantify and discover items in space." I mean, really dude? Your point seems to be, "If you are not personally building a spaceship, trying to get into outer space, you're hurting NASA!" Get a grip. In the real world, people make time for the things they care about in the spaces between all the things they must do. For those things that don't fit or are difficult to access, we do what we can. "Do everything or do nothing," which you seem to be implying, is not a viable form of advocacy.

> you are not able to see the connection between how you spend your time and what happens at NASA

I didn't know you and I were so personally acquainted. Oh, wait, you're just projecting.

Wow, that's quite a rude response for Hacker News. I'm sorry to see it here.

Edit: to respond to the middle part, I think that if you are more concerned about the space program than the other things that compete with it for money, then you would want to spend your time similarly, especially because many people are not as interested in space as you (and I) think they should be.

I do not think being busy is a good excuse; when I said you couldn't see the possibilities of positive action I meant to warm you to the possibility of increasing future support for funding by incubating enthusiasm for space exploration in others. You could certainly do this. I was also serious to suggest that you might actually contribute in some way to our exploration of space, which would mean more exploration for the same money. Whether funding increases, stays even or decreases that is a good thing.

I do stand by the Zynga analogy in that your perception of funding appeared to be too deterministic, not that you are somehow a Farmville addict or even play one Zynga game. I maintain it's bad for NASA if its advocates view the relationship between funding and space exploration too abstractly.

You are tone deaf if you don't realize how rude and condescending your own posts are.

I saw a Twitter comment during the celebration suggesting that NASA run a $30B Kickstarter to fund the first manned mission to Mars. [Setting aside legal issues] would the human race come together and pay for it? I like to think "yes", it would be a successful funding effort.

Yeah, wish Australia would take a more active role in space exploration.

Some of the tracking stations for the project are in Australia, including the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex. Perhaps it's a small contribution but Australia is definitely involved.

Yeah, I am more talking about putting up some real money towards these missions. We are a rich first world country, would love to see the American space budget cuts made up for more internationally, especially on the science based robotic missions and space telescopes.

I would imagine that a lot of the communications stuff has a lot to do with geography and would probably happen without Australian government funding.

According to some tweets I saw, the first images back came through Canberra.

Time for a sequel to 'The Dish'.

Australia has always been a backend operator. Similar for NASA other missions. It has provided the third contact point for when earth spins around which puts the other two contacts point out of reach.

They even did a movie about it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0205873/

Visited the Parkes telescope about 12mths after the movie launched, and can totally understand playing cricket on that surface. Ideal shape for playing cricket with only a batsman and a bowler.

Sorry had to drop a cricket reference here...

Bragging to whom?

To the martians, of course. Don't you think they will have tax payer concerns like the rest of us? why do you think they have not visited us in such a long time. :)

I thought they had ;)

This tweet reminded me of what's next:

"RT @DanielBrian: I love that @MarCuriosity launched Nov '11 but @NewHorizons2015 launched '06 & won't arrive @Pluto til 2015! Space is huge!"


New Horzons is the spacecraft currently on its way to Pluto--it's expected to be in range in about three years or so.

That's one small step for a robot, but a giant leap for robotkind.

Images are up now on the raw feed. They're getting F5ed hard, so actually seeing anything may take a bit.


Images are grouped by Martian solar days (sol 0 == day 0, length 24h 39.6m).

What is "F5ed"?

Everyone refreshing their browsers by pressing F5. :)

People move their hand to F5 when they can stay close to home and hit C-r?

That only works with an Emacs pinky. ;)

Cmd-r n the Mac is thumb and pointer finger. It makes all the difference in the world :)

You can use your entire right hand to hit Control.

For left-CTRL you can often just rest your hand on the CTRL while hitting the key with the index finger. :)

Hard to do if the keys on your laptop keyboard are flush with the palm rest.

probably "refreshed", F5 is sometimes the shortcut for refresh on some Browser's

Page refreshed.

f5 is usually the keyboard shortcut to refresh a browser window

Has anyone mirrored these yet?

Great historic event; congratulations to all involved. As for the images, hate to be a party pooper, but wasn't this thing supposed to be state of the art technology? What's with the shitty image quality?

These images are from a couple of the four pairs of Hazard Avoidance Cameras (HazCams) installed around the body of the rover. Their function is primarily to provide stereoscopic images for the rover's machine vision to analyze, enabling the rover to autonomously steer itself to a degree and halt if an unexpected hazard (for instance, a large boulder) comes up during movement.

The HazCams also had clear lens covers in place to protect the lenses from all the dust blown around by the landing rockets. These were not yet removed in the very first images -- indeed, the reason they're clear is that even if for some reason a cover gets stuck, a dusty image is better than no image at all.

Moreover, as the first communications opportunity was rather short, and the high-bandwidth directional antenna is not yet unfolded, there was simply no bandwidth available to downlink very high-resolution images.

The mast of the rover, containing the high-resolution NavCams and MastCams, is still folded up. If all goes well, it will be raised in a couple of days and higher-res images beamed up in due course.

Here's a nice article on Curiosity's various cameras: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-226

The fact that there were any images at all is a testament to the awesome engineering done on the MSL project. There was no guaranty that any images would be available from the Hazcams. The images were broadcast up to Opportunity orbiting above because the MSL was on the other side of Mars and does not have a direct line to Earth. The Opportunity was also about to go over the horizon so it also was going to lose contact. It was a masterful ballet of engineering and precision timing. What a great achievement.

That would be Odyssey, not Opportunity. Opportunity is the rover =)

I was thinking exactly the same thing, kind of embarassed because it feels 'spoiled' (not the right word but can't find any better). Glad I'm not alone on this. My hopes are that this is simply my lack of understanding and that it's simply night there now (does it work like that?), or that not all systems are up and running yet.

We'll get better hi-res images, in color, later. They did after all just exclaim "We got thumbnails!" when the first image arrived.

Does anyone know how close to their target landing spot they reached?

I believe they said 232 meters at one point, not sure if that was 100% confirmed though

Wow. According to Wikipedia, their elliptical landing zone was 20km by 7 km. That puts them in the center 2% of that zone.

Estimating from this picture (image 7), they weren't quite that good: http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/NASA-Curiosity-rover-...

Remarkable accuracy, given the context.

What a great achievement of heroic engineering! I can't wait to watch what comes next.

And in a couple of days, if everything goes fine, we'll have a couple of color, HD pictures of Mars. I'm very excited about it.

One I took as well. So fantastic http://instagr.am/p/N-bAAmrEhM/

What are those pictures of? This one


Looks like a building with a garage door on it and some random pipes sticking out.

That's a photo of the ground with the rover's shadow projected onto it by some backlighting, suggesting that the specific camera that took that photo is facing away from the sun and down towards the ground. Because there's no sky present in that shot, the exposure is set so that the ground is bright and the shadow is darker.

Meanwhile, if you look at the other photos with the horizon present (e.g. http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/?rawid=RLA_39750... ), the ground is dark because in order to capture the details in the bright sky, the exposure has to be adjusted so that less total light is captured (usually by using a faster shutter speed). Otherwise, you'd blow out the sky and get no details there.

It looks like the dynamic range of these cameras is limited, so keep that in mind when looking at any photos that come out of them. Something that's bright in one shot might be extremely dark in another, depending on its relative brightness compared to other parts of the scene. Take a look at the last few rear camera shots with the sun in them:


The sun causes all the sky detail from the previous rear camera shots to appear black, since its overwhelming brightness requires the exposure to be extremely brief.

Anyway, I hope that gives you a better idea of what to expect from these cameras and how to interpret the photos.

I believe this is the shadow of the rover.

Seems the picture is down, any mirror?

That image is taken with the front right Hazcam.

Here's an image of Curiosity, so maybe you can work out the shadow form this?


Isn't this just its shadow?

the Motif interface is a nice touch



The page has not been updated yet as of now.

As an aside, their Twitter account mentions that it was an observatory in Australia that was relaying the signals from Mars:


As it happens, it was an Australian observatory that relayed the first video of Armstrong walking on the moon. There was a fun movie made (made by the D-Generation/Working Dog guys) based on that:


I've been watching for 3 hours, I accidentally closed my browser during the sky crane step, by the time I opened the ustream feed, they were already cheering... I missed out.

If it helps there wasn't really anything to see, so to speak. Watching it live was more of an emotional viewing than a technical one.

They're doing a live press conference now.


I had the impression that the whole "control" room was nothing but show. Estimating the travelling times of a radio wave, nobody on earth could have had any control about the spacecraft, and none of the engineers in the control room could have done anything other than watch.

So if anybody is more involved into the mission than I am ... is my impression correct, or were there actual fallback mechanisms that these people could have decided upon?

What did you expect them to do? Go home and go to sleep and come back in the morning to check the logs? Come on. They'd hardly close their eyes for a second with all the excitement.

They're all there monitoring the various systems because they're all responsible for various components of an incredibly complex piece of equipment.

Assuming the landing goes well, they all still need to be there to continually monitor the operation of the systems they're responsible for and provide feedback if things don't like how they expected - it's not just about landing there.

This is normal even when releasing a tiny piece of software; it's hardly surprising NASA do the same for a multi-billion dollar project.

For the landing process, they were watching it unfold automatically and irreversibly on the 14-minute relativistic delay, just like us.

But I don't think that means their assembly there was "just for show". That's the best place to see every detail of how well things matched plans: to see discrepancies, in context and with collaborating peers, as soon as possible.

And now that it's down, there could be info that requires adaptive action. Even though interpreting such new data, devising a plan, and sending instructions would take hours or days, it's still a "control" function, just a slow and deliberate one.

It was acknowledged that they didn't have any direct control over the landing. However, there's lots of work to be done immediately after and most obviously, it's incredibly exciting to see the data as soon as it is available and to know that years and years of hard work executed successfully.

Additionally, watching a room full of engineers "do their thing" does a lot to get the average layman excited about the research and science and may get schoolkids excited about the possibilities of space travel, STEM, etc.

They committed ("non-reversible changes" on the livestream) to the landing about 20, 30 minutes prior to entry.

Ugh. If you've ever worked on a project with more than 1 person, you'd understand why... it's about the team and the work they'd done over the last few years. Even if they had no direct "joystick" control over the procedure, there was plenty of work happening immediately after the landing. I'm sure most of those people didn't have to actually be there for that work, but anybody working on the project wants to be there...

EDL is scripted, but there has been activity before tonight, and as another poster said, there is activity after landing. As the cruise phase comes to an end, there have been more and more tweaks to get the landing ellipse as tight as possible. In addition, there are system checkouts, and coordination of the orbiters that relay telemetry, in advance of the landing. It was not at all certain that the images could be produced right away.

They made it very clear in the press conferences earlier in the day that they have no more control during EDL than the viewer watching it at home.

I don't think the control room was "nothing but show." They certainly could have all gone home, but given the time and energy invested in this mission over the last decade, It was importent to monitor the event as it happened even if it cannot be controlled.

I think they were there in case of problems. Plus the post landing checklist, which they are doing now.

Interesting quote from NASA about the cost of these images:

“This movie cost you less than seven bucks per American citizen, and look at the excitement we got,” Dr. Elachi said.

Did anyone grab the image with some purple on it in a grid pattern? I didn't get a good look at it.

I saw that too, I don't know what it was.

Best guess is, they talked about finding a flat surface to land on, so my guess is that's a grid showing the options.

I was figuring it was some sort of compression artifacts, but that makes sense too.

What innovations from this vehicle can we expect to see trickle down into the consumer space?

For one, the robot gearing was designed with zero backlash (well +/- 0.000001") using a novel set of EDMachining techniques developed to achieve this accuracy virtually no part distortion - which was reported in literature and trade journals. Eventually, this could lead to super precision/efficient mechanical systems in scientific instruments, micro-robotics, etc.

Also - come on a SkyCrane!?!?

the realization that none of the people involved in making this happen will ever be getting 1b dollars by facebook in a buyout for their work.

the realization that none of the people involved in making this happen will ever be on a Forbes 500 list.

and still they did it. because they love it, it is progress, science, exploration. and not a way to ruin pics with a filter.

Nobody's going to see a blurb about instagram in a history book 20 years from now.

The first major one is all the kids watching this who are saying to themselves:


First you need a time machine.

These types of trickle down are not identified till much later. If you knew what it would be in advance you wouldn't need it to trickle down - you could just use or develop it directly.

I think the Curiosity team would object to your answer. They've been working on the project for almost a decade, have spent thousands (millions?) of man-hours on it, and have written 500,000 lines of code to control it. The dollar amount that has gone into building it is greater than the value of many fortune 500 companies!

There are probably some awesome innovations that came out of such a large project, it's a great question to ask.

Those 500k LOC are just for the EDL. Wonder what they wrote it in, presumably C? http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/news/press-releases/2012/ju...

I've been hearing (sic: reading) a few folks suggesting actually python. This was in the ##curiosity IRC chat this morning during the landing

I'm sure there are people in the HN community that are familiar with it's build and could make some predictions.

Genuine excitement.

From NASA's twitter, you can see one of Curiosity's wheel in this one:


Well done to the whole team who made this happen! Now go find some aliens!

I truly hope curiosity uncovers some new friends for us earthlings!

This is amazing. I hope that school children are given time to watch this. I hope that parents and teachers have the skills and knowledge to foster the Curiosity-driven curiosity of those children.

If I had kids, I'd definitely let them stay up to watch this and skip the first half of the school day.

The Curiosity rover runs on VxWorks. Does anyone know what gives VxWorks an edge over other (embedded) RTOS systems out there that qualifies it for tasks like this? Particularly open ones?

Not specifically, but it has been used for many years by NASA missions, so there is a lot of experience and knowledge behind it in this kind of thing.

Looks like the webpage was created by the Mars scientists themselves. They should entrust that job to a web designer.

Scientists were making web pages when you was in diapers, kid. I was there, working at Rockwell in '94.

That's what I'm saying, they were. They shouldn't. Like CERN announcement in Comic Sans.

The promise of the web was the democratization of publishing... anyone could do it, cutting out the middle-men. Now you tell us a "professional" has to be involved, no thanks.

As long as its readable I'm happy. I look at a lot of these professionally designed sites in the way you do this one, too much. I'd prefer the traditional black Times on a grey background.

Incredible, congratulations NASA, what happened today was nothing short of miraculous.

Is everyone getting an Unauthorized response now?

Two billion dollars and they couldn't put a color camera on it :-(

They have at least one color camera that "is like a consumer point and shoot" on the mast. The pictures released are from the very technically-limited hazard cams, which are really only for the drivers to see what they have to deal with.

Within a week we should see some full-color images coming in.

There is a color camera on it. It's just not deployed yet.


As I understand they do, but even if you had it been deployed seconds after it touched down, the wait for returning images would have been a while. Packet radio from that distance is no joke.

From Earth I'd rather have a few crappy thumbnails to confirm that the vehicle wasn't upside down or something in a few minutes than something National Geographic worthy in a few days.

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