Mars’ newest visitor: The Curiosity Rover

Ok, so this doesn’t have much to do with photography, but it has a lot to do with something very cool… so I’ll get right to it.  In case you didn’t know, on August 6th, 2012, the NASA Space Center landed a rover called Curiosity on the surface of Mars.  It was launched on November 26th, 2011 and traveled 352,000,000 miles to get to the red planet.  The idea behind all of this is to study the habitability of the planet, to investigate the possibility of life, and to study geology, climate, and to gather all sorts of other data.

Curiosity is larger than the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that NASA landed in 2004 (Spirit was operational until 2010, but Opportunity is still going strong)… it’s twice as long, and five times as heavy.  The entire project cost a whopping 2.5 billion dollars.  By comparison, the Spirit and Opportunity project cost around $925 million.

Okay, now it’s geek time.  Curiosity sports two (identical) on-board computers.   Each computer contains radiation-hardened memory to tolerate the extreme radiation found on Mars, 256k of EEPROM (used in computers and other electronic devices to store small amounts of data that must be saved when power is removed, like calibration tables or device configuration), 256mb of RAM, and 2GB of flash memory.  The Curiosity rover has 17 cameras in all.  The main cameras are called MastCams… and they take images at 1600 x 1200 pixels, and can do 720p (HD) video at 10 frames per second.  Each camera has 8GB of memory, which can store around 5,500 RAW images.  One of the MastCams has a fixed 34mm lens at f/8 (about 15° field of view) and the other sports a fixed 100mm lens at f/10 (5.1° field of view).

Yes, it is odd to me that something like this cost SO much money, and they didn’t seem to put all that much processing power in it.  Not only that, it doesn’t seem to have the greatest cameras.  However, we’re not trying to see what sort of monster computer we can put on the surface of another planet, or trying to take gigapixel images of said planet… we’re there to explore it, and do scientific experiments… and I (and I’m sure there are millions of others) absolutely adore that we are on Mars again, going after the age-old question:  Is there life elsewhere in the Universe?

Below is the first image sent by Curiosity, shortly after landing:

Here is a photo from @MarsCuriosity on Twitter.  I highly suggest you follow it if you’re a Twitter user.  It tweets in the first person!  The caption of this one is “Me & My Shadow… & Mount Sharp”

And finally, ladies and gentlemen; this is how it’s done at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL):

(I got a lot of this information from wiki, some from other random websites as well.  It’s not hard to find.)


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2 thoughts on “Mars’ newest visitor: The Curiosity Rover

  1. Mark R Zembrzuski August 8, 2012 at 9:06 am Reply

    When designing for the rigors of space exploration, reliability takes center stage. As such, any technology tossed into the void will be a few generations “old” since that technology has (generally) built a proven track record. If things break, it’s a LONG trip to the nearest Best Buy. ;-)

    It’s like why did they use EEPROM -and- FLASH memories? While they both accomplish the same basic function (store data without power), EEPROM remains far more reliable than modern FLASH technologies. That’s why -critical- information in stored in EEPROM.

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