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Interview with a Mars rover driver: Scott Maxwell of JPL

Photo (NASA JPL): The first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover, which are located on the rover's "head" or mast. The rim of Gale Crater can be seen in the distance beyond the pebbly ground.


Thomas Hayden at science blog The Last Word On Nothing has a wonderful little interview with Scott Maxwell (@marsroverdriver), who works at JPL as a Mars rover driver. Coolest job ever, right?

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Maxwell at JPL a few weeks before Curiosity touched down, when I accompanied Miles O'Brien on a shoot about MSL for PBS NewsHour. Loved him, and I love how he describes what makes his job so exhilarating:

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I drove her.  It was just a few meters along a simple path — we wouldn’t even bother to yawn at it today — but it was magic to me then, as it’s magic to me now.  I went home and should have slept, but all I could do was stare at the ceiling, in awe that right then, on Mars, there was a robot doing what I told it to do.  It was dead amazing, and that feeling has never left me and I hope it never will.

Read the rest here: SCUBA Diving through the Endless Martian Desert : The Last Word On Nothing.

Mars Curiosity image of the day: first pic by Navigation cameras includes an augmented reality tag

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory today received and published the first photograph shot by the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover.

It shows the shadow of the rover's now-upright mast in the center, and the arm's shadow at left. The arm itself can be seen in the foreground. The navigation camera is used to help find the sun -- information that is needed for locating, and communicating, with Earth. After the camera pointed at the sun, it turned in the opposite direction and took this picture. The position of the shadow helps confirm the sun's location. The "augmented reality" or AR tag seen in the foreground can be used in the future with smart phones to obtain more information about the mission.

(via spaceref.com. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A watch that displays time on both Earth and Mars

Looking for a gift for the NASA Mars rover flight controller in your life who has everything? Executive Jewelers makes watches that display Martian time, and watches with dual displays so you know what time it is on Mars *and* Earth, at a glance. (via @milesobrien)

Photo gallery of Mars landing scenes, on both planets

The Atlantic has a doublewide photo gallery of Associated Press photos from the night of the Mars Landing. I'm in this shot (#13). The whole gallery is a great reminder of the range of emotions and excitement you feel when you're witnessing one of these historic space events. I will never forget this night, as long as I live! And I know I'm not alone in that. If you want to know what joy looks like, click onward.

Martian Mt. Sharp vs. Mt. McKinley

Philip Bump put together this great comparison of Earth's Mt. McKinley and Mars' Mt. Sharp (as photographed by the Curiosity rover).

Officially, it's Aeolis Mons, and it stands 18,000 feet above the crater floor. Here's how that compares to Mount McKinley, America's tallest peak at 20,320 feet. The sea levels / floor levels are roughly comparable. But this is just an approximation. Do not make wagers based on this.

Via pbump.net

Mars Curiosity rover: NASA's John Grunsfeld and Miles O'Brien on PBS NewsHour

[Video Link] It took just minutes for Curiosity to complete her landing sequence on Mars. But the journey to that point took years of work back here on earth. The celebration of the rover's successful landing continues, and the mission itself will continue for 2 years. On this PBS NewsHour segment, Judy Woodruff talks to science correspondent Miles O'Brien and John Grunsfeld of NASA about Curiosity and the years NASA scientists spent planning the journey to Mars.

Related: From Miles' blog, "Why the Curiosity over Mars…"

What NASA fears most on Mars (image)

"Curiosity makes me very angry, very angry indeed!"

By David Silverman, of Simpsons and Tubatron fame.

Animated GIF of Mars Curiosity descent images

This animated GIF composed of descent images captured by NASA's Mars Curiosity rover as it headed towards landing is better than all the kittens on the internet combined. The video version is here. (via @nasasocial). Xeni

Mars Curiosity Rover: Boing Boing's $2.5 billion dollar question about image file types, answered by JPL

Photo: Two of the first images transmitted back by Curiosity, as seen on monitors at JPL 20 minutes after the rover landed on Mars. (Xeni Jardin)


NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was a magical place to be last night, as engineers, flight specialists, NASA administrators, space celebrities, and scientists from many fields gathered to witness the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover. Those seven minutes of terror ended in a picture-perfect landing: an amazing machine went through a crazy Rube Goldbergian descent sequence, and plopped down about two meters away from its planned destination on the Red Planet's surface.

We witnessed history. It seemed impossible. It was awesome.

I sat in on the post-landing press conference, and live-tweeted the evening at @boingboing. During the press conference, after the high-fives and screams of joy subsided, I asked MSL engineer Adam Steltzner a question about those first two all-important thumbnail images Curiosity sent back—critical because the data they contained would tell NASA if the rover had touched down in a safe spot.

[Video of that Q&A moment here.]

Given the great distance and technical challenges involved in transmitting timely data back from Mars, what file type and image compression algorithm(s) did they use for those first "rush" thumbnails? There's a 14 minute delay involved for any signals from Mars to Earth.

A dorky question, perhaps, but I was curious, and figured nobody else would ask. Things like, "Hey how do you guys feel right now," and "What will Curiosity do next," I knew others would tackle.

Mr. Steltzner didn't have details handy about the image file types used, and he referred me to Mars mission image specialist Justin Maki. Today I checked in with Mr. Maki and his JPL colleagues whose work focuses on data compression and interplanetary data transmission. Here's what I learned.

Read the rest

Totally Not Photoshopped photos from Mars (a tumblog of greatness)

More like this: "TOTALLY NOT 'SHOPPED PICS FROM MARS"

(Thanks, Sean Bonner!)

Read the rest

Mars Curiosity moment of joy: NASA JPL team high-fiving after landing (video)

[Video Link] As the post-landing press conference begins, NASA and JPL MSL leaders high-five and cheer with the Mars rover engineering and flight control team. I shot this last night (on my iPhone, pardon the shakiness) inside the Jet Propulsion Lab, at 11:15pm PDT, about 45 minutes after the rover landed, against all odds, on the surface of Mars.

* Despite the image on the screen behind them, this was not a Microsoft press conference.

Curiosity rover "caught in the act of landing"—NASA photo

This just in from Mars:

NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box; the inset image is a cutout of the rover stretched to avoid saturation. The rover is descending toward the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe "Mt. Sharp." From the perspective of the orbiter, the parachute and Curiosity are flying at an angle relative to the surface, so the landing site does not appear directly below the rover.

The parachute appears fully inflated and performing perfectly. Details in the parachute, such as the band gap at the edges and the central hole, are clearly seen. The cords connecting the parachute to the back shell cannot be seen, although they were seen in the image of NASA's Phoenix lander descending, perhaps due to the difference in lighting angles. The bright spot on the back shell containing Curiosity might be a specular reflection off of a shiny area. Curiosity was released from the back shell sometime after this image was acquired.

More about the photo here. (courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

Life on Mars: A round-up of Curiosity-related awesomeness

They were chanting "Science! Science! Science!" and "NASA! NASA! NASA!" in Times Square last night, as the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars at about 1:30 am Eastern time.

The best parts are yet to come. As chemistry professor and blogger Matthew Hartings pointed out this morning, Curiosity is, fundamentally, a chemistry project. Curiosity will search for the chemical building blocks of life, it will study the make-up of the soil and atmosphere, it will look at planetary water cycles and the effects of cosmic radiation. The long-range goal, as you've probably picked up by now, is to put human beings on Mars—maybe by as soon as the 2030s. Curiosity is the chemistry that will help make that very ambitious sort of awesome possible.

We'll be staying tuned for cool stuff coming in from Curiosity. In the meantime, I wanted to point you toward some swell videos, photos, jokes, and essays that have turned up in the last nine hours.

First off, if you slept through the event or just want to relive the excitement, the video above captures the five minutes before and five minutes after Curiosity made landing. The actual touchdown happens about at about mark 5:30, and the first images come through at 7:30.

And, speaking of images ...

Read the rest

Hi-res image from new Mars rover

From NASA: "This is one of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT (morning of Aug. 6 EDT). It was taken through a "fisheye" wide-angle lens on the left "eye" of a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance cameras on the left-rear side of the rover. The image is one-half of full resolution. The clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel."

NASA's New Mars Rover Sends Higher-Resolution Image [Nasa JPL]

Meanwhile, in space...

Maaaaaars?

MARS!

Marsmarsmarsmarsmarsmarsmarsmars ...

Thanks, Kate Davis!