Mars landing movie

  • Mars Science Laboratory due to land August 2012
  • Downward facing camera will record landing
  • Video and still pictures sent back to Earth

A downward-pointing camera on the front-left side of NASA’s Curiosity rover will give adventure fans worldwide an unprecedented sense of riding a spacecraft to a landing on Mars.

The Mars Descent Imager, or MARDI, will start recording high-resolution video about two minutes before landing in August 2012.

Initial frames will glimpse the heat shield falling away from beneath the rover, revealing a swath of Martian terrain below illuminated in afternoon sunlight. The first scenes will cover ground several kilometres (a few miles) across. Successive images will close in and cover a smaller area each second.

The full-colour video will likely spin, then shake, as the Mars Science Laboratory mission’s parachute, then its rocket-powered backpack, slow the rover’s descent. The left-front wheel will pop into view when Curiosity extends its mobility and landing gear.

The spacecraft’s own shadow, unnoticeable at first, will grow in size and slide westward across the ground. The shadow and rover will meet at a place that, in the final moments, becomes the only patch of ground visible, about the size of a bath towel and underneath the rover.

Dust kicked up by the rocket engines during landing may swirl as the video ends and Curiosity’s surface mission can begin.

Models of Sojourner, a Mars Exploration Rover, and MSL.

Full-scale models of three generations of Red Planet rovers: front, the Sojourner rover (about the size of a microwave oven) landed as part of the Pathfinder mission in 1997; left, one of the twins, Spirit and Opportunity, landed in 2004; and right, the Mars Science Laboratory, due to land in August 2012.

All of this, recorded at about four frames per second and close to 1,600 by 1,200 pixels per frame, will be stored safely into the Mars Descent Imager’s own flash memory during the landing.

But the camera’s principal investigator, Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, and everyone else will need to be patient. Curiosity will be about 250 million kilometres (about 150 million miles) from Earth at that point. It will send images and other data to Earth via relay by one or two Mars orbiters, so the daily data volume will be limited by the amount of time the orbiters are overhead each day.

“Each of the 10 science instruments on the rover has a role in making the mission successful,” said John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, chief scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory.

“This one will give us a sense of the terrain around the landing site and may show us things we want to study. Information from these images will go into our initial decisions about where the rover will go.”

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL / MSSS.

Please note that the video above was made prior to the decision to defer the launch date of MSL. Disregard the reference to October 2010 at the end of the video.

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