Curiosity Prepares to Get Rolling, Sends Back First Color Panorama
After landing on the surface of Mars, NASA's curiosity rover is still getting its bearings. Over the weekend the rover will receive a software upgrade to get it rolling, but Curiosity has already sent back its first color panorama of Mars.
The picture above is a 360 degree panorama taken with Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam), perched atop the "head" of the rover. Its 3.6-foot tall mast had been folded for flight since the rover was packed into its rocket last November. Raised for the first time yesterday, the rover began surveying its surroundings.
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Mike Malin, who worked on the Mastcam and is the device's principal investigator, is quoted in a NASA press release as saying, "After a year in cold storage, where it endured the rigors of launch, the deep space cruise to Mars and everything that went on during landing, it is great to see our camera is working as planned."
Malin noted that while these images are impressive, they're only an eighth of the camera's potential resolution. The above image is, in fact, a mosaic comprised of 130 low-res images sent back by the rover. Indeed, the Mastcam can shoot color photos at 1600x1200 pixels and even shoot 720p HD video.
Over the weekend, however, NASA will be focused on making critical software upgrades so Curiosity can finally get moving. Intended to be upgraded throughout its mission from the start, Curiosity will receive new software from today until August 13. By then, Curiosity should be running on version "R10" of its software.
"The flight software version Curiosity currently is using was really focused on landing the vehicle. It includes many capabilities we just don't need any more," said Ben Cichy, Curiosity's chief software engineer, in a NASA press release. "It gives us basic capabilities for operating the rover on the surface, but we have planned all along to switch over after landing to a version of flight software that is really optimized for surface operations."
In addition to clearing the decks of unnecessary functionality, the upgrades will also give Curiosity some new tricks for surviving alone on the hazardous Martian landscape. According to NASA, this includes new image processing software to help the rover autonomously avoid obstacles while rolling. With it, the rover can drive further without human intervention -- particularly useful considering the 13.8 minute delay in sending information to and from the Red Planet.
The new software will also allow Curiosity to make use of its robotic arm, which until now had only been used to snap a few photographs. Once operational, scientists will be able to use the arm's scoop and drill to sample the Martian soil.
Though simply landing on Mars is an astonishing feat, Curiosity has yet to really make use of its enormous capabilities. Inside its multi-ton frame are over a dozen scientific experiments, cameras, and a power source rated to last over a decade. While those of us outside NASA are chomping at the bit for new discoveries and breathtaking images, Curiosity is still just getting ready to wow the world.
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