Remember the film Dr. No? There are so many great parts to this movie – the classic introduction to the character (someday I’m going to learn how to play Baccarat and hope someone asks me my name), one of the best music themes ever, and a great cast (although I always find myself expecting Jack Lord to say “Book ‘em, James” just before the closing credits). But one of my favorite parts comes toward the end of the movie when Dr. No is trying to complete his evil plot. While everything on the set starts blowing up, one of Dr. No’s henchmen sits calmly at his control panel, counting down the time until the Project Mercury launch that Dr. No is trying to stop.
“2 minutes and counting…” “1 minute and counting…” “30 seconds and counting…”
It seems that nothing can disrupt him from his mission to keep track of this launch. Not the fighting all around him, not the impending overload of the nuclear reactor, not even the dramatic orchestral score – through it all he just sits there, calmly counting down the time.
Sometimes I wonder if there’s someone like that working on the project team for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), counting down the days until the rover Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars. Since its launch on November 26, 2011, MSL has travelled almost 500 million kilometers (around 300 million miles), leaving it with “only” 85 million kilometers (50 million miles) left to go. And now – with only 45 days left before landing – the mission ends its Cruise Phase and begins the Approach Phase, which culminates with Curiosity’s landing on Mars August 6.
We’re pretty excited about the MSL mission because the four camera systems on Curiosity – designed by Malin Space Science Systems – are all based on the Truesense Imaging KAI-2020 image sensor. The Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will capture images during descent to provide a framework of the landing site for early operations, while the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) will capture high resolution images (up to 14.5 μm per pixel) of Martian rocks and soil after landing. And the Mast Camera (MastCam) includes two cameras – each with the same sensor but using different lenses – that will capture high resolution still and 720p video images of the planet’s surface. And all of them rely on the technology in the KAI-2020 to capture full color, high resolution images.
Curiosity is the biggest, most sophisticated system ever sent to Mars, designed to help better understand the climate and geology of the planet, determine whether it ever could have supported life, and help plan for a possible future human mission to Mars. And it’s exciting to know that image sensors from Truesense Imaging will be playing a small part in this mission, capturing the pictures and videos that will be viewed and studied by people around the world.
There’s a lot more information on the Mars Science Laboratory available from web sites at JPL and NASA. And once Curiosity lands and the first images are sent to Earth, we’ll post some of those here as well. But until then, we’re just waiting.