Mars Descent Imager (MARDI)
Test Image by Mars Descent Imager
The Mars Descent Imager for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory took this image inside the Malin Space Science Systems clean room in San Diego, Calif., during calibration testing. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Knowing the location of loose debris, boulders, cliffs, and other features of the terrain is vital for planning the path of exploration now that the Mars Science Laboratory rover has landed on the red planet. The Mars Descent Imager took color video during the rover's descent toward the surface, providing an "astronaut's view" of the local environment. Watch a video of Curiosity's Descent
As soon as the rover jettisoned its heatshield several kilometers above the surface, the Mars Descent Imager began producing a four-frames-per-second video stream of high-resolution, overhead views of the landing site. It continued acquiring images until the rover landed, storing the video data in digital memory. After landing safely on Mars, the rover transferred the data to Earth.
In addition to helping Earthbound planners select an optimum path of exploration, the Mars Descent Imager provides information about the larger geologic context surrounding the landing site. It also enabled mappers to determine the spacecraft's precise location after landing.