NASA’s newly landed Mars science rover Curiosity snapped the first color image of its surroundings on Tuesday while an orbiting sister probe photographed litter left behind during the rover’s daring do-or-die descent to the surface, Reuters reports.
Ken Edgett, principal investigator for Mahli, the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager that took the image, introduced the still colour shot which showed the reddish rim of the Gale Crater at a press conference in Pasadena, California.
“The Mahli is a focusable colour camera and this is the first colour image of the landscape where we have landed,” Edgett said. “I have waited a long time for this to come back,” he said, as he seemingly struggled to keep his emotions in check.
The colour picture offers a view of the north wall and rim of Gale Crater, but the image is blurry because the removable dust cover on the camera is coated with fine debriskicked up during landing, according to The Huff Post.
The photo has also been rotated later to correct the current tilt of the rover’s robotic arm.
The newly obtained picture proved that one of the rover’s key instruments, a camera known as the Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, was in good working order affixed to the end of Curiosity robot arm.
“It works. It’s awesome. Can’t wait to open it and see what else we can see,” Ken Edgett told reporters on Tuesday.
Reports show that the image pleased NASA scientists, but its poor quality was derided by some media. “Is Curiosity taking photos with a RAZR?” Gawker asked, referring to the fad camera phone produced by Motorola in the early 2000s.
However, picture quality is expected to improve once the dust cover is removed. “Images taken without the dust cover in place are expected during checkout of the robotic arm in coming weeks,” NASA said.
The $2.5 billion project is NASA’s first astrobiology mission since the Viking probes of the 1970s, and the landing came as a much-welcome success for a space agency beleaguered by science budget cuts and the recent cancellation of its 30-year-old space shuttle program.
“Curiosity had another busy day yesterday and she is asleep right now, getting ready for tomorrow,” Nasa Mission Manager Mike Watkins said. “Curiosity is still healthy, still what we call surface nominal mode and still in great shape,” he added.
According to The Telegraph, Nasa also released images of taken from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which showed where the rover and its supporting hardware, including sky crane, back shell, parachute and heat shield, landed on the planet’s terrain.
The key mission of Curiosity, touted as first fully equipped mobile laboratory ever sent to another world, is to search for evidence that the planet most similar to Earth now harbors, or once hosted, the key ingredients necessary for the evolution of microbial life.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s image shows the heat shield in a region dotted with small craters, while Curiosity is surrounded by rounded hills and fewer craters. To the north is a third type of terrain riddled with buttes, mesas and pits.
Scientists expect it will be weeks until Curiosity begins roving and months before it heads to the 3-mile (5-km) high mountain at the center of the crater, the primary target for the two-year science mission.