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Mars: Curiosity captures its first color picture (+video)

NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, has taken its first color photo of the Red Planet. The photo acted as a thumbs-up to Earth, indicating that the rover's equipment is operational and that it is prepared for the mission ahead. 

A series of images have been pieced together to create a video of Mars rover Curiosity's descent onto the planet. The beginning images show the heat shield separation.
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NASA's newly landed Mars science rover Curiosity snapped the first color image of its surroundings while an orbiting sister probe photographed litter left behind during the rover's daring do-or-die descent to the surface, scientists said Tuesday.

Curiosity's color image, taken with a dust cover still on the camera lens, shows the north wall and rim of Gale Crater, a vast basin where the nuclear-powered, six-wheeled rover touched down Sunday night after flying through space for more than eight months.

The picture proved that one of the rover's key instruments, a camera known as the Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, was in good working order affixed to the end of Curiosity robot arm.

Designed to take magnified, close-up images of rocks and other objects, or wide shots of landscapes, the camera currently remains stowed on the rover's deck. But once in full operation, scientists can use it to capture fine details with a resolution as high as 13.9 microns per pixel -- several times finer than the width of a human hair.

"It works. It's awesome. Can't wait to open it and see what else we can see," Curiosity scientist Ken Edgett told reporters on Tuesday.

The latest images were relayed to Earth during the rover's first full day on the Red Planet, following a descent through the Martian atmosphere and touchdown on Sunday night that NASA hailed as the most elaborate and challenging ever in robotic spaceflight.

The $2.5 billion project is NASA's first astrobiology mission since the Viking probes of the 1970s, and the landing came as a much-welcome success for a space agency beleaguered by science budget cuts and the recent cancellation of its 30-year-old space shuttle program.

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