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First full-resolution images of the Martian surface (nasa.gov)
435 points by ed209 on Aug 8, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 140 comments

I absolutely love this stuff. The photos to me are strangely eerie, and even perhaps a little sinister.

I have trouble comprehending the size of other planets, photos like these make me feel uneasy (in an exciting way) because they are strikingly similar to landscapes we might find here on earth - yet it's a completely different planet! I'm no longer looking at mars as a red circle as shown in textbooks, but now as vast unseen landscapes that have never been explored before - a new perspective and a new age of discovery and I can't wait to see what else happens in my life.

It's also a stunning achievement. As I lie in bed looking up into the darkness, a boundless expanse of tens of millions of miles of absolutely nothing lies between me, and a small man made robot with the martian wind gusting and whistling gently over it. A robot that is cautiously making small movements, buzzing and whirring going about it's business with no one there to hear the sounds or see the movements it's making. A machine who's intentions are totally pure - it's sole purpose is simply to learn. A small beacon in a far-reaching expanse of barrenness and nothingness.

One thing I found recently I'd never heard of before is 'Venera 13': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venera_13

A Russian rover that landed on Venus in 1981 - designed to last the harsh environment of Venus for 32 minutes but actually lasted 127 minutes. An extraordinary engineering achievement to have a rover go from freezing space temperatures to temperatures of over 450c.

And it managed to transmit images of the surface: http://mo-www.harvard.edu/microobs/guestobserverportal/Galil...

Absolutely stunning, and in some ways even more eerie and provocative to me than the Mars pictures as the environment it briefly operated in is far more hostile and as time was so limited the images are even more precious.

That image of Venus is wonderful, thanks! I hadn't seen it before. I, too, think this is fascinating stuff. Another cool image comes from Titan, one of Saturn's moons, which we managed to land a probe on.[1]

[1] http://www.esa.int/esaMI/Cassini-Huygens/SEMC8Q71Y3E_0.html

There's also an awesome video of that descent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-BwcDNsbmw

Or: http://www.esa.int/esaMI/Cassini-Huygens/SEMKVQOFGLE_1.html (check the hires download!)

The Venera program is definitely one of the "unsung heroes" of planetary exploration.

Perhaps the best resource for surface images of Venus (along with fascinating image reconstruction) is Don P. Mitchell's page: http://mentallandscape.com/C_CatalogVenus.htm

Another fascinating tidbit: the Soviets also performed the first (and to date, only) deployment of a balloon probe on another planet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerobot#The_Venus_Vega_balloons

I was going to mention Don - he's a friend of a friend - and the book he's writing about the Russian Venus program. There's a lot of awesome stuff here that almost no-one knows about.

His series of pages on the Venera program[1] just blows all other resources away, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

He mentions on his copyright page[2] that he studied Russian books/papers, befriended & interviewed Russian scientists, dug up rare photographs, and even processed original spacecraft data with custom C++ code to create some of the images!

I look forward to his book; does he have an ETA on the publication date?

[1]: http://www.mentallandscape.com/V_Venus.htm [2]: http://www.mentallandscape.com/Copyright.htm

All his friends are pestering him about when he's releasing this book - he's under no pressure to publish and rather enjoys the process of digging up all this stuff and writing the code to process these images.

Wow, this is the first I've heard of the balloon mission. I wonder how long the balloons stayed afloat after the batteries ran down...

Well, I'm finding an operation time of ~46 hours, although the battery life was supposedly 60 hours. I did find this tidbit[1]:

"Shortly after passing into daylight, the Vega-2 aerostat plunged several kilometers, to a level of 0.9 atmospheres, dangerously close to the lower limit of its stable float zone. After the end of signal, the balloons probably overheated and burst, somewhere on the daylight side of Venus."

[1]: http://www.mentallandscape.com/V_Vega.htm

  > I have trouble comprehending the size of other planets
I'm not sure this will help, but the surface area of Mars is about 1/3 that of Earth. Given that roughly 2/3 of the Earth's surface is covered by water, one can think of the surface of Mars as being roughly equivalent in area to the entire land area of the Earth.

That's exactly how I felt at 7 in 1975 : http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/viking/viking-20060714.htm...

> I absolutely love this stuff. The photos to me are strangely eerie, and even perhaps a little sinister.

It's actually reassuring to me. It's rocks. We understand rocks. I'm surrounded by them. There may not be a blade of grass, a gasp of air or a friendly face to greet us but at least there are rocks.

Personally I think Venus is the more interesting planet to be exploring

I wonder if eating away at the current atmosphere of venus is more or less technically challenging then the task of creating an atmosphere from scratch on Mars. Since Venus also has way more mass, I'm guessing humans would feel more comfortable there then on Mars.

My thoughts exactly - Venus seems like a better place to start interplanetary exploration with - as I understand, if you could cool it down to an acceptable temperature, you could walk on the surface with just a breathing apparatus, right?

It has 92 times Earth's atmospheric pressure at the surface. This would be a bad idea. It would be like being 900 meters deep in the ocean on Earth. 150 meters is about the limit for humans before High Pressure Nervous Syndrome stops the fun.

But around 50km above the surface of Venus, the temperatures are nice, and the pressure is 1 earth atmosphere. You just have to to stay up there.

  > around 50km above the surface of Venus, the temperatures
  > are nice, and the pressure is 1 earth atmosphere. You just
  > have to to stay up there.
Lando Calrissian just called. He wants his Cloud City back. :)

Perfect. Given Venus's gravity is 0.904g, we could work something out in a few years.

  > as I understand, if you could cool it down to an
  > acceptable temperature, you could walk on the surface
  > with just a breathing apparatus, right?
Sadly, probably not. Cooling it down is already a very tall order, and even then, you would need to find a way to remove most of the atmosphere in order to reduce the pressure (~90 atm at the surface).

Mars is a much better bet for human habitation in the short term. Chemically, it has all the ingredients we need to support human life. And it is much easier to build structures that can withstand the thin atmosphere (0.6 kPa) and relatively tame temperature range (-87 C to 63 C, all figures according to Wikipedia) than to build something that can survive the 9 MPa and 450 C on the surface on Venus.

I always kind of thought that Venus would be a neat place to preform "grey goo" experiments. Lots of matter and energy, and really the only thing you are going to do is make it a nicer place. Worse case is that it remains Venus.

Yeah, I remember Venus was sometimes called as the "other blue planet" but it was an actual Hell of a place to live in. Looking like Earth but nothing close to it that would make it inhabitable.

> survive the 9 MPa and 450 C on the surface on Venus

not even mentioning the sulfur acid rains, lead sulfide snow and lack of magnetic field (cosmic rays penetrating atmosphere if it would be weakened)

Doesn't mars also lack a magnetic field?

  > Doesn't mars also lack a magnetic field?
Yes, that's correct. There is no global dipole magnetic field on Mars [1]. However there are weak fields "frozen" into some of the oldest rocks on Mars [2], which indicates that the planet did have a global magnetic field at some point in its early history. Scientists think that the lack of a global magnetic field was part of the reason that Mars lost its atmosphere. [3]

For humans to settle on Mars and stay for any length of time, we will need to find a way to shield ourselves from the ionizing radiation that reaches the surface. [4] On Earth, most of this radiation is either deflected by the global magnetic field, or absorbed by the atmosphere.

[1] http://www-ssc.igpp.ucla.edu/personnel/russell/papers/mars_m...

[2] http://cmex.ihmc.us/data/catalog/TectonismonMars/Paleomagnet...

[3] http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/as...

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_Mars#Radiation

Although what about from a human health perspective? Can humans survive in a gravity that weak for a long time? What about animals?

What's long? a year? twenty?

And to answer that question and others is why we(humans) have bothered with Space Lab, Mir, IST. You can Google answer.

No, I mean if humans were to colonize Mars -- would gravity make that process difficult?

Definitely, with little gravity it could even be impossible for women to bear and give birth to a child

I'm unfamiliar with how gravity factors into pregnancy and birthing. Do you have any further details on that?

... and an umbrella which is resistant to sulfuric acid, given that a cooler temperature will no longer evaporate the acid before it reaches the ground.

Building an atmosphere on Mars would surely be more of a challenge than on Venus, since Mars doesn't have a magnetosphere to keep solar winds from blowing the gases away.

Geoffrey Landis suggested that: Although the surface of Venus is an extremely hostile environment, at about 50 kilometers above the surface the atmosphere of Venus is the most earth like environment (other than Earth itself) in the solar system. It is proposed here that in the near term, human exploration of Venus could take place from aerostat vehicles in the atmosphere, and that in the long term, permanent settlements could be made in the form of cities designed to float at about fifty kilometer altitude in the atmosphere of Venus. Source: http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/2003002...

I find Saturn's moon Titan most earth-like, in that it has liquids, forming rivers and lakes - "geological" features missing from most (all?) other local planets and moons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakes_of_Titan; also http://www.world-science.net/othernews/120723_titan.htm; and geological analysis (video) http://www.space.com/16674-rivers-on-saturn-s-moon-titan-puz...

The Venus photos are simply awesome (the probe definitely deserves more recognition :-)), as are those from Mars. It's a shame we can't just hitch a ride to either of the planets to explore them and see them with our own eyes...

I can completely correlate to the uneasiness brought by truly realizing the scale of things.

If you do like video games, one that had such an intended effect on me was the first Mass Effect. There are a number of side missions where you descend onto planets in a multi-terrain vehicle and are supposed to check some things out (you can get out of the rover as well). Although for the most part the planets are barren (much like Mars), I found them incredibly effective at sending the scale message across. The most incredible one though, was a side mission on the Moon, with Earth right up above you. Though the scale wasn't 100% accurate, it still made for one of the most impressive moments in video games for me.

Nice! You can actually use those to make pairs of stereoscopic images. You can even see features not otherwise visible from the raw pictures. It's a shame the left and right camera distances are not the same as a human eye ; it makes the 3D effect a little too strong. I guess it gives their nav software a better depth resolution that way.

i put this together quick as an example: http://i.imgur.com/bNlkY.jpg

Thank you! The lower part isn't really a good fit, but the upper part is nice to look at.

In cased you missed this released by NASA in July, it's also amazing: HD panoramic view of Mars by the Opportunity rover: http://www.panoramas.dk/mars/greeley-haven.html

Random question: Is it silent on Mars? I'm looking at this picture and can't help but wonder what it sounds like. Just curious if Martian weather tends to be windy or calm.

  > Is it silent on Mars?
Good question! No, it is not. See http://sprg.ssl.berkeley.edu/marsmic/sound.html for an experiment, carried on the Mars Polar Lander, which would have attempted to record the sounds of Mars. Sadly the instrument was lost along with MPL.

  > Just curious if Martian weather tends to be windy or calm
Another good question. Mars is quite windy. I don't have a reference handy, but Spirit and Opportunity recorded numerous dust devils on the Martian surface. IIRC, they sometimes saw more than one a day!

They didn't pack a microphone! Bastards! :P

Considering the propensity for dust storms I'm going to say windy. But the atmosphere is thinner, so this makes it harder to hear? Or quieter?

  > But the atmosphere is thinner, so this makes it harder to
  > hear? Or quieter?
Sound intensity for a plane wave is given by the equation $I = \xi^2 \omega^2 c \rho$. Here $\xi$ is the particle displacement (the amplitude of our wave), $\omega$ is the angular frequency, and $c \rho$, typically called $Z$, is the characteristic acoustic impedance, where $c$ is the speed of sound and $\rho$ is the density of the medium.

Given that the speed of sound is roughly independent of pressure, and keeping all other variables equal, as $\rho$ decreases, $I$ also decreases. So yes, on Mars, sounds are much quieter.

Sources: http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/672/what-is-the-r...


I knew my bait would bring someone smarter than me out of the woodwork! Thanks, very informative. Can I ask what's your background that led you to this?

There was a microphone sent to Mars once, but it was on a lander that crashed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_polar_lander#Scientific_in...

Edit: Correction, twice, one was also sent on Phoenix but due to a design defect it was not used: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_(spacecraft)#Mars_Desce...

Related: Sound recording from the Huygens probe descending on Titan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36ffV-CI3Mo

There are winds. The wind is what would clear dust off the solar panels of the other rovers. I think that is what allowed them to run so long - the winds were stronger than expected, and cleaned off the solar panels better than expected, so more power was available. If I'm not mistaken, the engineers originally expected the solar panels to get covered by dust in a matter of months, at which point the rovers would stop working.

I thought it was interesting to learn about the different ways we get data back from mars. Excerpt from [1]:

The data rate direct-to-Earth varies from about 500 bits per second to 32,000 bits per second (roughly half as fast as a standard home modem). The data rate to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is selected automatically and continuously during communications and can be as high as 2 million bits per second. The data rate to the Odyssey orbiter is a selectable 128,000 or 256,000 bits per second (4-8 times faster than a home modem).

[1] http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/communicationwithearth/...

Some one has a link with more technical data about the communication stack? algorithms, modulation, etc.

Some information is available here, including variable bit rate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electra_(radio)

i hate to be critical of an image sent from millions of miles away but I have an honest question:

Why do images from landers like this always look like there were taken from a iPhone 1's camera?

>> The bandwidth from Curiosity directly to Earth is about 8 kb/s. Curiosity has a high bandwidth link to the Mars Odyssey Orbiter, a Mars satellite, which has a 256 kb/s link to Earth.

The early pictures are from a low resolution camera with a clear dust cover still attached. This camera is used to determine if Curiosity is about to land in a crater. A higher resolution camera will be activated later. <<

(taken from http://www.quora.com/NASA/Why-dont-we-have-more-color-images... )

While yes, the original pictures from the low res camera look bad, the new raw pictures from the higher-resolution cameras aren't really that much better. Better than the images from the iPhone 1, probably. But better than Viking 1 images from 1976? Honestly, it doesn't look like it.


Just look at the detail per pixel. It's amazing. You can see tiny details in the sand. It's looks like if you took an image on a 20 megapixel DSLR with a high-quality lens, then scaled the image down to web size. The resolution isn't higher than a camera-phone, but the detail is remarkably better. And that's from nearly 40 years ago.

That image was taken in 1977. Actually, this is how people saw it until 2009


when Mr Van der Hoorn "used the original 11d128.blu, 11d128.grn and 11d128.red images from the NASA Viking image archive, converted them to .png, manually removed the noise and finally merged them into one image"

Details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Van_der_Hoorn/Viking/Filte...

The Viking 1 camera(s) were of the Vidicon type: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vidicon.png

While yes, the full color image I posted was re-compiled from the original red, green, and blue channel images sent from the rover by a non-NASA source, even NASA's B&W images look better back then than they do now.

I made an image to illustrate this: http://f.cl.ly/items/0k2w2d1C1O3w3e0t300f/NASAQualityDegreda...

Remember that the images we have from Curiosity so far are from the navigational guidance cameras, though. The heavy equipment hasn't been fired up yet.

If I recall, the Mastcam will take a panoramic colour view later today, and that'll take a few days to download. Then we'll have a proper image, for the first time.

Here is the panaromic view from Mastcam. But as you can see by image's description, we're all still waiting for the big picture though! Excerpt from [1]: "As engaging as this color panorama is, it is important to note this is only one-eighth the potential resolution of images from this camera." [1]http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/news/msl20120809.html

Some of the images, and the one I used for my comparison, are from the Mastcam, I believe.

The MAHLI is the only visible light camera that hasn't been used at this point.

Interesting. I'm just going on a hunch here, but maybe getting better photographs of the Mars surface is not a priority anymore? From the wikipedia page of Mars Science Laboratory the goals of the mission are:

To contribute to these goals, MSL has six main scientific objectives:

* Determine the mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials.

* Attempt to detect chemical building blocks of life (biosignatures).

* Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils.

* Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) Martian atmospheric evolution processes.

* Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide.

* Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic radiation, cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons.

By those I can understand why carrying a high res camera was not a priority because it would have added weight, taken up space and also consumed more bandwidth while transmitting? :)

How are you supposed to maneuver a 2 ton (or any rover for that matter) rover without cameras?

And I guess today they are cheap and easy enough (I mean, cheap as space exploration goes)

> How are you supposed to maneuver a 2 ton (or any rover for that matter) rover without cameras?

It's one ton, and you can't, which is why it has 2 navigation cameras and 4 hazard cameras near the wheels.

The bandwidth from Curiosity directly to Earth is about 8 kb/s

For what it's worth, just about 15 years ago that was the bandwidth that you could expect from consumer internet and BBS connections on earth.

And now we're doing it to Mars. Boggles the mind.

I'm hoping Larry Page's Planetary Resources will use Google Fiber for transmitting from the asteroids.

You probably meant it as a joke, but fiber networks, as the name suggests, use firer optic wires to transmit data at high speeds.

These images aren't even from the main cameras. These are still navcam images.


I'm psyched they have a camera that can take true color images! Now we can see what Mars looks like without false color filtering. I wonder how close they get with those techniques to the real thing.

Normal "color" cameras are also false-color filtered. They just have the filters applied per-pixel instead of over the whole sensor at once. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayer_filter


I'm pretty sure the images of the surface there are not altered.

Have you seen it at full res or not ?


(To me, it does not look like iPhone anymore.)

This is a great, detailed description about what it's like to do image processing from a space probe on Mars


It's from O'Reilly's "Beautiful Data", made available free in honor of the current mars mission.

The short answer (covered in that document) is actually that the sensors have to be hardened for space use and are not consumer grade. They are incredibly expensive to produce.

These are still from the navigation cameras.

The main camera, not yet deployed, can take 1600x1200 full-color pictures and HD video at 10fps. There's actually two of it, so it can also make 3D images/video. Other features are wide/telephoto lens, panorama stitching and 8GB flash storage.

Before complaining about resolution, this is like having a GoPro 3D on Mars, it has plenty of detail.

One of the articles mentions that the cameras are provided by the same manufacturer as the Viking missions, so they must certainly have improved. Expect some awesome images in the coming months!

More info: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/instruments/cameras/mas..., http://msl-scicorner.jpl.nasa.gov/Instruments/Mastcam/, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/news/msl20110531.html

If I had to guess - and I do, because I don't work for NASA - it's because there's a limited payload space on board, and visible images are some of the least interesting things, science-wise, that you can ask from Mars. Combine this with the electronics-unfriendly environment, and you probably aren't going to be strapping huge DLSR's on a 2.5 billion dollar science machine.

Edit: Also, these appear to be the navigation cameras, so they're probably just good enough to be able to point the rover in a direction free of road hazards and tell it to boldly go where no other machine has yet gotten around to going.

I doubt that is the reason, the weight of a 16mp sensor or marginally more than a 2mp one. The metal camera supports are much likely to dwarf the sensor weight differences.

most of a DSLR's weight is lens and battery(s), both of which are not issues in this case, since the lens would be the same and the power comes from a nuclear battery.

NASA couldn't just bolt on a 5DmkIII and expect it to work because the electronics would be fried.

That said, the Apollo missions took a not-very-modified Hasselblad camera with them that worked fine, which is why we have much higher resolution pictures of the moon, despite it being decades ago.

> That said, the Apollo missions took a not-very-modified Hasselblad camera with them that worked fine, which is why we have much higher resolution pictures of the moon, despite it being decades ago.

That and the fact that they used sneakernet, which is still much higher bandwidth than wireless, especially in space.

Also, it was easier to do on a sound stage.

While I'm guessing this is in jest. All of these hardening necessary raises a lot of question about the legitimacy of the older photos.

My child.

In the past years, while your mother played in the sunlight and your father smiled at girls and drank cool drafts as the evening drew in, before you were even a glimmer or a sunbeam, we had devices called "film cameras".

These "film cameras" did not have electronic components. They worked by using levers, springs and wheels. An emulsion that is reactive to light was prepared and pasted onto a plastic film. The plastic film was exposed to the light, but briefly. Later a complicated process was applied to transfer the reacted image (for that is what it was) onto other media, which could then be copied.

If one looks upon The Sacred Ebay (all bless the name of Sacred Ebay) one will find similar devices today.


In this way, the dark time became but light.

Ahhhwaahhhh wooooo. Ahhhwahh wooo...


I thought that one of the things that led to the discovery of radiation was an accidental exposure of photographic film by x-rays.

Yay, yay and verily. Forsooth though it is time to rely on sciencey things.


Wherein the effects of radiation on films is documented. The answer is that some damage occurs, but films are fogged only by extreme conditions such as those that STS-31 got hit by. I don't know what steps were taken by apollo to protect films, but I would not be surprised if some protection was used to prevent excessive damage.

Also I would point out that Apollo missions were 8 days in length while the martian missions are 9 mths long (if they smash into Mars at 13k kmph) or hopefully 24 mths + long if they work - hence the serious need for hardening.

Anyway - if you like don't believe in it all - the rest of us are happy looking at the photos, data and science and enjoying the general idea. You can believe in invisible pink unicorns or ghosts or something instead if you like! (we don't mind)

Not at all, the hardening is for electronic components, the Hasselblad camera is all mechanical. The astronauts would have had to store the film in lead lined containers, but they had the advantage of bring the films back with them. Curiosity has to rely in electronics to get the images back to earth because it's staying there.

You also have to factor in that the camera needs to withstand take-off, deep space flight for months (hello radiation!), 11g's on re-entry, heat of re-entry and landing. Along with lasting for at least 2 years on Mars with no spare parts in sub-zero temperatures.

There's a reason why they don't send the latest and greatest camera or computer technology into space.

> most of a DSLR's weight is lens and battery(s), both of which are not issues in this case, since the lens would be the same

Only true if you assume the same sensor area for the 2MP sensor and the 16MP sensor, which is a poor assumption. If they did use sensors with the same area you would pay dearly with high noise and low sensitivity just to cram more pixels in there. I think most photographers figured out awhile ago that the "Megapixel War" is only meaningful as a way to pitch perceived quality to uninformed consumers.

Patience, better images will come. They need to deploy the camera fully and it will take time to retrieve the data.

It has only a 2 megapixel sensor, which is a shame. I am sure that it has something to do with radiation hardening and the other environmental factors.

It would be good though if NASA did catch up with sensor technology. I suspect the 2MP sensor was approved years ago when it was state of the art.

Yup, this mission has been in the works for ~10 years so I would imagine that they chose the specific sensor at least 6-7 years ago.

Also NASA is notoriously risk averse (for good reason). Apparently it is very common for them to rely on old but proven technology. Some of this has to do with risk aversion, but I imagine some of it also has to do with budget. It pains me to think what NASA could be doing with 10x more money.

>It pains me to think what NASA could be doing with 10x more money.

Me too, but pretty much it all ends going to Lockheed anyway whether it comes via the DoD or Nasa. I don't mean that conspiratorially either, even JPL people joke that JPL stands for "Just Procure Lockheed". The subcontractors rarely get mentioned in Nasa PR, but Nasa is really a whole bunch of different project offices spread over a few campuses with an enormous ecosystem of subcontractors.

I expect a vertical, strongly-led skunkworks style structure with guaranteed funding for several continuous years (vs "start working on this now but we can't promise we won't change our minds in 12 months" which causes a lot of subcontractors to not properly commit to new hires or other big capital commitments, and having to spread all the work evenly among different states) would probably yield 10x as much for exactly the same money.

Regardless of all that organizational arm-chairing (though I work in this space, hoho), Curiosity is bloody fantastic and I am very excited to follow its progress over the next year at least.

Camera chat: fewer bigger pixels = less ccd noise - remember Mars further away from the Sun than Earth, and so it's generally darker. Take an Iphone 1 photo of things at twilight to appreciate some of the difference!

The Just Procure Lockheed thing is never heard around JPL. I'm not doubting that someone said it, some time, but that's not the Lab mindset at all. If you want to make an institutional characterization about JPL, you could say "hardware-centric", or "arrogant", or "cocky", but not "Just Procure Lockheed".

I agree that there are a lot of subs, but JPL and other centers have a very strong interest in maintaining a core capability in strategic areas. Launch vehicles: not a core capability, and commercially available -- subcontract these. Planetary robotics and deep space communication: core capabilities -- keep in-house.

Also, your comment underestimates how much distributed expertise is required to develop and integrate a set of instruments like this, and to get it to Mars. It's not practical for all that expertise to be NASA only.

I recently saw a lecture on a proposal for an upcoming space mission and the speaker mentioned the contractors at Lockheed working on the proposal several times. I remember because it kind of stood out to me that they're involved from the start.


A lot of large launches are done by United Launch Alliance (ULA), which is a Boeing/Lockheed-Martin consortium. (I.e., they provide the rocket and the launch facilities -- for instance, they did all the Shuttle launches, as well as the MSL launch.) You'd have to involve them at an early stage to get costing worked out.

There's a second consortium, also Boeing/Lockheed-Martin, that does manned space operations for Shuttle (formerly) and for Station. (Operations = flight control from the ground, post-launch. E.g., rotating the solar panels on Station.) That one is called United Space Alliance, or USA for short. Catchy, no? ;-) AFAIK, USA does not play any role in unmanned operations.

As the GP pointed out, there is a lot of money in launches, launch vehicles, and in manned operations, hence the contractor involvement. As you can guess -- you can't even play Boeing off against Lockheed-Martin because they're in a consortium -- that world is kind of creaky. SpaceX is disrupting ULA big-time.

Lockheed-Martin is also involved in instrument design and other non-launch activities. Getting an instrument into space is a multifaceted affair.

Here's a good example. Juno, a spacecraft currently on its way to Jupiter:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/overview/index.html http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/products/juno.html

Managed by JPL, spacecraft by Lockheed-Martin, science PI is at SWIRI, instruments from all over. And this is a "medium-size" mission, not a "flagship" mission like MSL or James Webb.

Which would explain the >10x success SpaceX seems to be having (shooting for something less ambitious than Curiosity so far, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if they put a man on Mars in 12 years for less than 10% the cost of a NASA mission.)

I don't think the megapixel count on the sensor is the result of a decision made a long time in the past. The sensor is a CCD from Kodak, which still makes very high resolution sensors at low megapixels[1]. I'm not familiar with the requirements of the sensor, but I'm sure that it was specifically selected. If NASA wanted more pixels, they were available.

[1] http://www.truesenseimaging.com/products/full-frame-ccd

Sure they have a 2 megapixel camera, but there are probably good reasons, of which you mentioned one I can think of. The other being that they can only send back limited data which has to contest with scientific experiments and navigation data, and they can take multiple 2MP shots to make a panorama like they do, effectively making a higher res image (assuming they can zoom).

More megapixels isn't necessarily better. The sensor was probably chosen for a specific reason, one reason may be that the sensor was matched to the optics (lenses) they decided to use...

They're using Instagram filters. ;)

Random tangent, but I wonder what procedures NASA goES through to scrub all living organisms from the robot itself if one of their aims is to see if they can detect life on the martian planet.

"NASA uses a variety of methods to measure, control and reduce spacecraft microbial contamination for planetary protection purposes. Assembly of spacecraft hardware is carefully controlled and often takes place in clean-room facilities using, aseptic techniques in order to meet planetary protection requirements. Dry heat microbial reduction techniques first used on the Viking spacecraft are still used today..."


NASA adheres to planetary protection procedures and requirements. For MSL...

"Selected components were heated to temperatures ranging from 110 to 146 degrees Celsius (230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit) for durations up to 144 hours. Tools and other equipment that could come into contact with rover hardware were also cleaned routinely with alcohol wipes."

More details here: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/news/pdfs/MSL_Plan_Prot_FactShe...

You might find some info here: http://planetaryprotection.nasa.gov/

On the same lines.

Why can't we send some robust organic life to Mars and dump it there, Just to see what happens?

Without caption someone may think that pictures were taken on some Earth desert. It is surprising that mountains look quite "normal".

To me seeing Mars looking like somewhere on Earth just changes everything.

Looks like the image was stitched together from multiple images, judging by the jagged edges at the top and the "fold" to the right of middle in the image. Very neat, nonetheless.

I think that's why it's described as "two" high resolution images and they're only providing a single file to view.

Has something been whited-out in the bottom right corner?

I might well be wrong, but I assumed that white spot was just the sun reflecting off of that part of the rover.

I had to actually stop and think "hang on, does 'sun' mean THE sun, or....".

It's cool thinking about a little robot on mars cruising around doing stuff for us, still showing reflections from THE sun.

Worth noting that this particular "little robot", unlike the previous set, is about the size of a car. That's why they could fit more equipment on it. :D

There's a good stitched together panoramic view of all those images at Gizmodo - http://gizmodo.com/5932952/curiosity-opens-her-eyes-for-the-...

In case anyone's curious-

List of missions to Mars: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_missions_to_Mars

How far away are those hills in the back? I'm guessing they're farther away than we might think, due to Mars not having much of an atmosphere to reduce visibility.

I believe that's the crater rim, and the crater is 96 miles in diameter, with the landing site closer to the edge than the center.

I think you think its a lot farther than it actually is.

My estimate would be about a mile.

From a topographic picture of Gale crater [1] with the landing area of Curiosity circled, its about 25km to the nearest crater wall or slightly more than 15 miles to the crater wall.

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b9/Topograp...

Another random question: In pictures like this: http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/mt/assets/science/800px-Op...

the rover is in a clean chamber, with the staff wearing suits. Why is the clean chamber needed for assembly?

This is part of NASA's Planetary Protection directive [1]. Their goal is to ensure that we do not inadvertently contaminate the pristine environments that we visit with our spacecraft. If we did, we would be destroying an invaluable scientific resource!

They are also responsible for ensuring that samples returned to Earth from outer space are handled safely.

[1] http://planetaryprotection.nasa.gov

Hollywood movies to the contrary, archeological research is very concerned with avoiding contaminating the subject with crap from the researchers. Imagine if life was found on mars... and we introduced the diseases that killed it.

Really brings home the fact that we have reached beyond the place where life sprung up, and are probably getting ready to move beyond the earth.

Wait, so this is just one photo right? I see a range... assuming this is the edge of the crater? I don't think Mt. Sharp is visible here?

It's time to put men on Mars and not just robots. It's embarrassing that in the 40+ yrs since Armstrong we haven't gotten anywhere else.

Woosh.. really it's time to put men on Mars, or is it just "for the lulz"?

Robots are meant to provide scientific data about Mars ecosystem, explore further on the surface and so on. What does a men, right now, add there? Nothing. Just danger and wasting money.

Now, investigating technology that could put a man on Mars, that's interesting. But not just for setting foot on the surface, just for bringing to reality new tech that allows that.

Curiosity is an achievement itself. Great technology, and for now, greatly executed. How many different proves went to the moon before a man could set its foot on there?

It's not embarassing that in 40 years "we" haven't gotten anywhere else. To me it's embarassing that in 40 years we do not have yet sustainable way of keeping life on our own planet. Energy, on Earth and beyond, it's what could set a new standard for human race.

On the NASA site, look for the "Full Size" link, then right click on the image and set it as your desktop wallpaper. Fits perfectly.

The highlight of my day is to watch the NASA daily press briefings each day this week.

(1pm EST or 10am PST on all NASA channels)

This is just blows my mind! - Hopefully one day we will walk on that surface and have a thriving colony.

To sum up sentiment of many here: NASA should have got Canon as a sponsor and give us some decent images.

It's ridiculous to travel across the system and not being able to send good images.

Okay I've heard this from a couple people already and I think this needs to be said. For one these are the Navigation camera shots and have no reason to be any higher quality. The craft has only been on the ground for 5 days and hasn't initialized all 17 of its on board cameras yet. The one in particular interest to us is the MastCam which features true-color 1600x1200 stereoscopic CCD's, can shoot 720p video at 10 fps, can telescope out to objects seven football fields away, and detect a wide range of wavelengths. And before you complain about it being only 2 Mp or that it can only do snails pace HD that your camera phone can achieve I ask you to think about how resilient these cameras must be to the environment along with how slow our communication speeds are with the rover. With a max uplink of 2Mb/s for 8 minutes per day and a 32kb/s connection otherwise, 3D 1080p at 60 fps really doesn't seem worth the network resources it will hog from more important mission data.

People who support NASA and it's projects are the reason why you should make room for good cameras. Even scientists are people and would be motivated by good pictures. Having a sense of how it is on Mars is whole point of this and good pictures provide that.

Also arguments about how it would be hard to add good camera, simply is not true. I agree about uplink and understand.

Why are they in black and white?


This was taken by the camera whose sole purpose is to assist with navigation. That is why its B&W, low quality, and stitched. The main camera system will produce full color images that I assume will be much higher quality.

Are there any examples of a picture taken on Earth with the main camera?

Here's a full-resolution picture taken by the descent imager as the heat shield fell away:


The descent imager uses the same sensor as the main mast cameras, but with different optics.

If that camera works for 10+ years, I'll take that resolution any day! Beautiful!

If you want to blow up a giant printout wait for the stitched-together shots, I suppose.

I haven't found any full resolution examples, but there's a resized sample here: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/instruments/cameras/mas...

Looks pretty boring around there. I hope they can find something interesting somewhere around that area. I read that over the whole mission the rover is supposed to drive only ~20 miles, so there better be something interesting to observe :)

There is an IMMENSE amount of stuff to observe and learn about this boring part of Mars. Geology, water formations, rock formations, sand composition, atmosphere, etc.

Imagine if you lived on another planet and sent a probe that landed in the middle of the desert in Africa. You wouldn't exclaim "that looks boring!", you'd say "awesome, so much data to crunch!"

well, what do you expect, red trees and volcanoes :-)? Mars is kind of a dead planet, and the most interesting things you can see are the dust devils and maybe/hopefully, ice formations.

  > the most interesting things you can see are the dust
  > devils and maybe/hopefully, ice formations
For the geologists who designed the scientific instruments on Curiosity, the most interesting things they can see are rocks. Lots of rocks, from different periods in the geologic history of Mars.

This is why Gale Crater was picked as the rover's landing site; there are several nearby features, including Aeolis Mons, that will provide the rover with an opportunity to date and investigate rock layers from different eras.

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