We’ve been excited about the images that Curiosity had relayed back to mission control only minutes after landing on the Red Planet, and images have since been pouring in ever since. But now we have something even better: the first film footage of Curiosity’s descent onto the Martian surface.
Right from the get-go, you’ll notice the heat shield quickly plummeting to the ground as the craft, dangling under the supersonic, 100-pound parachute, slows down to 200 miles per hour. If you can recall the landing process during the “Seven Minutes of Terror,” ridding the craft of the heat shield exposes the underbelly of the rover and, more importantly, the vehicle’s radar. The radar allowed Curiosity to make precise velocity and altitude calculations to determine when to release the rover from the craft’s shell and parachute, and then initiate jetpacks, that slowed the rover’s descent, letting it hover just about the Martian surface. Around the 33-second mark in the video, the jetpack starts and kicks up Martian dust, as the rover itself is lowered onto the surface using 21-foot-long nylon tethers.
The video, created by a YouTuber, is in fact a chronological compilation of high-resolution images taken by the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) during the rover’s descent. You can find the full album of images here.
The MARDI descent imager is a fixed-focus color camera affixed onto the rover’s chassis, and pointed toward the ground. The reason for this is that it was intended to be used during the two to three minutes after the heat shield’s separation, which initiated a “start imaging” command, until the rover touched down on the surface of Mars. The camera was built to capture 4,000 raw frames, or 800 seconds of the descent (which is far more footage than was needed), of 1600 x 1200 pixel images at 5 frames per second. Amazingly, the camera only uses three watts during the filming process.
According to a description of MARDI on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s website, “MARDI’s primary objectives are to determine where exactly the vehicle has landed and to provide a geologic and engineering-geologic framework of the landing site for early operations.”
Check out the video below: