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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

First look at Curiosity MARDI's descent animation (WOW WOW)

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

06-08-2012 19:09 CDT

Topics: pretty pictures, pics of spacecraft in space, podcasts and videos, spacecraft, Mars, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory), animation

MARDI -- the Mars Descent Imager, the camera I described in great detail in this post -- has already lived up to its promise, and it's hardly begun. Let me set the scene for you briefly. MARDI is a HD color camera bolted to the front left side of the rover, pointed down. It started recording images at a rate of 4.5 frames per second shortly before the heat shield was jettisoned, and shot photos all the way down. The full-resolution images are 1600 by 1200 pixels, and the full video will be breathtaking when it's available. That won't be for a while.

What we have on the ground now from MARDI is incredible, and it's nothing like what we'll eventually get. What we have now is a stop-motion animation of 297 individual frames. The frames are "thumbnails," downsampled versions of the full-resolution data. Here's an example, showing the heat shield:

MARDI low-resolution view of Curiosity's heat shield

NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

MARDI low-resolution view of Curiosity's heat shield

Curiosity sent these thumbnails to Earth in order to give the MARDI team a sense of when the most important images were taken, so that they can make good choices of which full-resolution frames to send first. So the animation will get way, way better than this.

It begins with the heat shield about 15 meters below the rover, glinting in the Sun. It falls away quickly, vanishing into invisibility. We see red Mars below it, spinning as the rover spins. At one point there's a sudden change in perspective, likely a result of the "divert maneuver" that Curiosity executed after it cut its connection to its parachute. As Curiosity approaches the ground, we start to see a plume of dust being kicked up. The Skycrane maneuver begins, and simultaneously the wheels deploy; one wheel (the left front, I think) pops into view in one corner. As the rover settles to the ground and the wheels take up its weight, the wheel moves out of the field of view again.

See other posts from August 2012


Read more blog entries about: pretty pictures, pics of spacecraft in space, podcasts and videos, spacecraft, Mars, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory), animation


David: 08/06/2012 08:23 CDT

I'm not sure I understand why it's called an "animation" instead of a "film". I know it's only a selection of frames, but they add up to a moving picture -- and the motion is not less smooth than that of some of the more undercranked films of the silent era.

Michael: 08/06/2012 08:48 CDT

I can't even begin to imagine how cool the 1600 by 1200 video will be. Simply mindboggling.

Zorbonian: 08/07/2012 03:49 CDT

Yeah - don't quite see why it is an animation. It connotes that it is like a cartoon - which at this resolution, I have to admit, it does kind of seem like it. Nonetheless, very amazing. But I really want to see the 1600 x 1200 video.

Norm: 08/08/2012 06:50 CDT

Wow, Mars landing perfected - even with video.

Emily: 08/14/2012 11:38 CDT

I'm not sure it matters what you call it! When I assemble a stack of still images and make what's effectively a flip-book out of them, that's what I call an animation.

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