Not only has NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory already returned its first high-resolution photographs from the inside of Gale Crater, during Sunday’s afternoon press briefing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), near Pasadena, Calif., a stop-motion video of the rover Curiosity’s powered descent and landing was also released.
The video (below) combines 297 photographs stitched together to form a one-minute animation of the moment Curiosity’s aeroshell jettisoned the heat shield from beneath the rover, allowing the mission’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) camera to look down on the Martian surface for the first time. One of the first frames of the animation (shown above) depicts the falling heat shield.
The key purpose of MARDI was to capture footage of the terrain leading up to, and surrounding, Curiosity’s landing site — an ancient impact crater called Gale Crater. The entry profile of Curiosity’s aeroshell allowed mission engineers unprecedented accuracy, placing the rover within a 20×7 kilometer (12×4 mile) landing oval inside the guts of Gale Crater, just six kilometers (four miles) from Mt. Sharp.
At the briefing, MARDI principal investigator Mike Malin (of Malin Space Science Systems) emphasized the video is composed of highly compressed photographs — the reason why the video appears grainy and blurry. High-resolution photos will take longer to retrieve from Curiosity.
“That video would be just exquisite in full frame,” said Malin. “It’ll be a couple of weeks before we really start having the pieces for it.”
While narrating the events of descent — as the heat shield fell away, rover released from the parachute and ignited its rockets to begin the ingenious “Sky Crane” maneuver — the last frames show Mars dust being blown away by the thrust of the eight rockets of the Sky Crane as the rover was lowered to the surface. Malin likened it to the view the Apollo 11 astronauts filmed as they saw lunar dust being blown away by the thrust of the lunar lander’s rockets.
Enjoy the ride!
Image credit: NASA/MSSS