Watch as Curiosity touches down gently *and* its heat shield slams into Mars

By Phil Plait | August 18, 2012 6:30 am

Some amazing videos are still coming out from NASA about the Mars Curiosity rover’s descent to the planet’s surface. This one is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-but-still-totally-freaking-cool: the heat shield slamming into the surface of Mars and blurting out a cloud of dust:

Not only that, but the high-resolution pictures from the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI – a camera pointing down that took shots as the rover was lowered to the ground by the sky crane) have been sent back to Earth, and Spaceflight101 made this incredible video from them:

I love love LOVE the swirling dust set into motion at 00:41 by the sky crane’s rocket thrusters once it got close enough to the ground. And you can see when one of the rover’s wheels snaps down into place as well!

These videos are honestly astonishing to me. When I was a kid we had to wait forever to get (sometimes pretty cruddy) images from our space probes. Now we get flippin’ color video of hardware slamming down and/or settling gently onto another planet! The pace of technological advancement may be most popular when it comes to things like cell phones and computers, but as a scientist I can tell you that the impact on our ability to do research has been profound almost beyond comprehension. Digital cameras that can be lofted into space, or made to see great gaping sections of the sky, or into the ultraviolet and infrared, or with high enough resolution to see incredibly small features on other planets… or all of the above. This technology has, quite literally, opened up whole new worlds to us.

It’s a fantastic time to be alive. And to have Curiousity.

Tip o’ the lens cap to BABloggee Dave Jerrard for the tip about the MARDI video.


Related Posts:

Gallery – Curiosity’s triumphant first week on Mars
Video of Curiosity saying bye bye to its heat shield
Curiosity landing site: the whole mess
VIDEO of Curiosity’s descent… from the rover cam itself!
Curiosity update: Heat shield spotted!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Curiosity, heat shield, Mars

Comments (30)

Links to this Post

  1. Video of Curiosity’s Landing on Mars | Orangeinks | August 19, 2012
  1. Robert

    Just one thing I wish: That they could have found it within their mass budget to have put a downward facing camera on the decent stage. To see the rover hanging from cables touching down would have been such a cool image!
    Still, I well know that the few hundred grams needed was better spent elsewhere.

  2. James Evans

    Are we sure the first vid isn’t just the rover losing a hubcap? Used to happen to my Subaru wagon all the time, and it never even experienced 7 minutes of EDL terror. At least not while I owned it, and the previous owner seemed levelheaded…

  3. AngryPolarBear

    “…bluring out a could of dust”? Typo…

  4. “Some amazing videos are still coming out from NASA about the Mars Curiosity rover”
    The lag with mIRC was annoying, but hell, this is worth it.

  5. It’s a fantastic time to be alive. And to have Curiousity.

    You know, you really should warn us before using such a pun. :-)

    BTW, which camera caught the heat shield smashing into the ground?

  6. Roman

    Seems like they put more cameras on that thing than they have data rate to handle it.

  7. That is SO cool! I’m forwarding this to my son who is studying astronomy/astrophysics in college. He just went back today. He saw Curiosity’s launch 8+ months ago w/his dad so the MSL is extra-special to all of us. Thanks, Phil! :)

  8. Alejandra

    This is just mind blowing…!… I feel amazed and SO very proud of what we can achieve when we challenge ourselves to go for more with mind, effort, heart & soul. As you said, this is such a fantastic time to be alive!

  9. Wzrd1

    All that I could think of with the heat shield impact was, Wile E. Coyote. Thankfully, NASA uses a different rocket company that he did.
    I guess it’s a side effect of my age and it being Saturday that caused the association… ;)

    I also agree with #1, Robert. A downward camera from the sky crane would’ve given some excellent views and information on movement during descent. And probably more gnawed off nails…

  10. Mike86

    Just wait till all the full resolution images come in…that second video will be even more awesome!

  11. If ACME only had the funding NASA has…
    You could order that shit.

  12. Wzrd1

    @SkyGazer, ACME’s funding problem is due to their business model.
    Rather than going with high quality, state of the art rockets, they went with trying to make their profit through volume and lower quality.
    As Wile E. Coyote can testify to.

  13. Gary Ansorge

    …and as the president of Acme said ” We sell so cheap, we’re below cost.”

    Wile, “But how do you make a profit?”

    President, ” Volume.”

    …or maybe their stuff was just made in China…

    Great pics..

    Gary 7

  14. Wzrd1

    @Gary, not China. At the time, the cheap, self-destructing products were Made in Japan.
    Later, the same category products were made in Korea, followed by Taiwan.

  15. George Martin

    As Robert @1 and Wzrd1 @9 say, it would have been cool to have an image (or images) from the decent stage. But how would they have transmitted one or more images from that stage during decent? The decent stage only lasted for a few seconds after Curiosity released itself. The available bandwidth available for real time transmission during decent was mostly filled by the engineering telemetry.

    MARDI and the other cameras store their images in the camera’s memory until commanded to release the images for transmission. For a camera on the decent stage, there would have had to be some one-time provision to store an image or more images in special memory on Curiosity.

    On a different tack, I wonder if there are still more high resolution MARDI images to come? I think that the thumbnail version of decent, from heat shield drop to landing, was more than twice as long. In that version you can see the sand dune that Curiosity will have to go around before it reaches mount Sharp.

    George

  16. What a pity that the Curiosity Rover’s power supply didn’t come with an external socket to keep on driving. That not being possible use sessile stance for other technology. We could have sent a follow up power supply. It would have been a very small vehicle. Very cost effective.

  17. Levi in NY

    Phil: If you’re experiencing a sudden uptick in traffic to your site, it’s probably because the main page of the Daily Kos is directing people to your blog. It’s nice to see Curiosity is piquing the curiosity of the world, isn’t it? http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/08/18/1117559/-This-week-in-science-Ich-bin-ein-Martian

  18. Muz

    It is indeed a fabulous time to be alive!. And to dream… my little girl will one day be walking and working on Mars.

  19. alfaniner

    “Curiosity”. One of the hardest words for me to remember how to spell.

    Too.

  20. bassmanpete

    It is indeed a fabulous time to be alive!. And to dream… my little girl will one day be walking and working on Mars.

    It was just 5 days before my 13th birthday that Sputnik 1 was launched and I was convinced I’d be alive to see manned missions to the Moon and Mars. Well the Moon missions came faster than I imagined but I think it’ll be a struggle to still be around for the Mars ones. :(

    “Curiosity”. One of the hardest words for me to remember how to spell.

    Well you did get it right. I see a couple of people are having trouble with descent though!

  21. Bradley Non-Bradley

    There’s some interesting footage made by the rover at YouTube. It’s the Mars surface in motion, captured after the landing. Time-lapse?
    http://youtu.be/hqonNdn83S4?hd=1

  22. Nic

    A fractal landscape. Until the descent stage kicks up dust the big land features from high up look very similar to smaller features as it gets lower, so you can’t visually judge your height. I’ve noticed the same on the old Apollo descent movies.

    But not a problem, we have radar.

    If you look at the even older Ranger (U.S moon probes which just hit at high speed) you again can’t really judge height.

  23. Absolutely incredible. To be alive and able to see this, it’s like living in the future. :)

  24. Kendall

    @George: The sky crane could have used a high-bandwdth link to the rover itself to transmit the video right after the crane was lowered. Taking an extra few seconds before flying off was probably practical given it didn’t care where it was going.

    Alternately, the sky crane could have recorded to a specialized USB stick that it dropped the moment the rover was down – if it had a radio transponder in the in the rover could have then picked it up and read the contents for leisurely transmission back to earth.

    I know that every ounce is precious on these missions but as part of the mission is to inspire scientists on earth, I hope future missions proceed even further along the path of taking really cool images and video as part of the mission, and not just based on scientific need.

  25. Bob

    need to drive the rover to the heat shield

  26. George Martin

    Kendall said:
    @George: The sky crane could have used a high-bandwdth link to the rover itself to transmit the video right after the crane was lowered. Taking an extra few seconds before flying off was probably practical given it didn’t care where it was going.

    Start counting the bits per second needed for even a 64×64 thumbnail which were the initial MARDI images. There were more important things that they needed to know in the last few seconds than a pretty picture from above. My guess is that during the time after the Earth was below Curiosity’s horizon, they were using the low gain antenna to communicate to the Mars Observer and the other two recording backups, that they not would want to waste time recording an essentially useless image.

    Alternately, the sky crane could have recorded to a specialized USB stick that it dropped the moment the rover was down – if it had a radio transponder in the in the rover could have then picked it up and read the contents for leisurely transmission back to earth.

    Man, you are making things complicated, as if the whole landing sequence was not complicated enough.

    I know that every ounce is precious on these missions ….

    The only reason I replied at all, is that I doubt that that was a consideration. If they ever considered a camera on the decent stage (will we ever know?) I suspect that the bandwidth budget was a much more important consideration than the mass budget.

    George

  27. W Sanders

    >> need to drive the rover to the heat shield

    And find it missing :-)

  28. Anchor

    The annotation of the heat shield impact video misidentifies the position of the heat shield prior to impact. If you look carefully at the sequence, you can see the heat shield and its shadow converging, especially in the last half-dozen frames. It appears as a blurry light-colored patch moving in smaller steps straight ‘upward’ nearer the center of the scene, not from out of the field of view from the lower right as indicated by the arrow.

    The arrow identifying the position of the heat shield is WAY off – it doesn’t point to anything in particular that can be seen. Moreover, the sun angle that the implied position of the heat shield would have with respect to its shadow is inconsistent with the illumination angle apparent in the terrain, which has the sunlight streaming from upper right to lower left across the scene, not from the lower right, as implied by the false position of the heat shield pointed out by the arrow. Finally, the position indicated by the arrow implies that the sun angle CHANGES, rotating significantly during this brief sequence. The field of view in this highly-magnified section of the frames is far too narrow to show any perspective effect as seen from the descending rover.

    I don’t know who is responsible for the bad arrow or the image analysis, but if its Malin Space Systems, its not very often they make a blunder like that.

  29. Harbo

    It also makes Viking I & II even more wonderful.

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