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Mars rover Curiosity sends first color picture

August 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The excitement continues for NASA scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory over its latest mission to Mars. The rover "Curiosity" has sent back its first color picture.

NASA animation shows the view Curiosity is getting of the red planet. The camera is pointing directly north from where the rover landed. The camera is called the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). It has a field of view of about 30 degrees. Although the picture it took may look murky, it's giving scientists a clearer view of their mission ahead.

Scientists are very excited about the new image, not necessarily because of what we're seeing in the photo, but because it's showing that the main camera aboard the Curiosity is working. And the photos are only going to get better.

In the foreground of the newest image, small rocks can be seen scattered over red soil. In the background, the northern edge of Gale Crater emerges like a mountain range over the surface of Mars.

Ken Edgett is a senior scientist with Malin Space Science Systems, the San Diego company that spent a decade developing the MAHLI.

"It's too emotional for me. It's been a long journey and it's really awesome," said Edgett. "That's all I can say."

The image captured Monday was taken during Curiosity's first full day on Mars. The photo is just a focus test. Eventually, the camera's dust cover will be removed and the images will be much sharper.

"My favorite images are always these first few images because you first get a chance to really see where you are," said Michael Watkins, manager of the navigation and mission design section NASA JPL. "And I think the emotion of those -- every time we get a new one, we all crowd around the screen and watch."

MAHLI is positioned atop a robotic arm that is currently stowed on the side of the rover.

"We can position MAHLI anywhere that arm can go," said Edgett. "We can go straight up, we can go all the way down to the ground. We can get within an inch of a rock."

Tuesday, we saw another remarkable photograph taken not by Curiosity but by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter overhead.

The image was taken from hundreds of miles above Mars. It shows Curiosity surrounded by its discarded shell and heat shield, its parachute and sky crane.

"You're getting the same information from orbit as you're getting from the ground, and that really makes you feel very good," said Sarah Milkovich, a NASA scientist at JPL.

Eventually Curiosity will start transmitting photographs with much higher resolution. That's the idea anyway, but right now scientists at JPL are still bringing all the rover's systems online. That's going to take several days.

The $2.5 billion rover will eventually start taking soil samples and begin to analyze whether the surface of Mars has the basic building blocks of life.


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