This week two cool new views of the next Mars rover appeared in the Jet Propulsion Lab's image database, the Planetary Photojournal. One was real, and one simulated; I've been waiting to see both for many months.
First, the real view. This is something of a milestone image: it's the first (or at least, the first that I know of) "deck pan" taken by the rover of her own self, by her color MastCam. This one was taken while Curiosity sat inside an environmental test chamber, and shows a self-portrait of a gleamingly pristine brand-new rover. There's a lot more white surface on Curiosity than there was on the Mars Exploration Rovers. She looks white now, but that won't last long once Curiosity lands on dusty Mars. Even though the site where Curiosity will land is going to be no more dusty than Opportunity's landing site, the rover will still acquire a reddish-pinkish cast fairly quickly from the thin coating of fine Martian dust that will begin to accumulate on her surface from the moment that she lands. If the Mars Exploration Rover missions are any guide, Curiosity will periodically repeat this self-portrait activity to monitor the condition of her upper deck, generally while she has to stay parked in one spot for a while as one of her analytical instruments is doing its thing.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
Curiosity's first 'deck pan'
The images for this view of the top of Curiosity's instrument-filled deck were taken through the left (wider-angle) eye of the Mastcam while the rover was being assembled at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The front of the rover is toward the right in this image. On the left is the outer cover for the mission's nuclear power source, a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. At far right is the turret a the end of Curiosity's robotic arm. The light-colored hexagonal object in the top left quadrant of the mosaic is the high-gain antenna, which is about 25 centimeters across.
Just below the RTG cover is an object that should be familiar to fans of Spirit and Opportunity -- it is a flight spare of the MarsDials that were sent to Mars aboard Curiosity's predecessors. According to Bill Nye, it sat on Jim Bell's desk for years before being cleaned up and updated for inclusion on the deck of Curiosity, where it'll serve the same purpose: a calibration target for the color cameras.
The other view is a simulated one. For a long time I've been forced to use what I knew was a pretty poor simulation of Curiosity's appearance whenever I want to drop a picture into an article. Now there's a much better portrait available:
NASA / JPL
Curiosity, or Mars Science Laboratory
It's good but I'd love to see the same simulation from a few different angles, to help illustrate different parts of the rover. Hopefully they'll release a couple more artist's concepts as the launch date approaches!
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