What an age we live in! Sending robotic spacecraft to strange worlds is just incredible, mindblowing and amazing, yet we as a society are always so very blasé about it. This is because our actual experience of these landings consists of a a few dry paragraphs in a government agency press release, with the data and images then appearing quietly and without drama several weeks later.
Well the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL, or Curiosity to its friends) has changed all that. One of the many high resolution cameras installed on Curiosity was designated the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), and its mission was to record the landing in glorious high-definition colour. Pointing directly downwards from its mounting underneath the 900kg rover, it probably won’t see much further use, but it has returned a beautiful series of images, showing the journey from space down to the Martian surface. Theis footage has been been assembled as a video and mixed with the audio recorded in the control centre to achieve something quite amazing: We now, for the first time, have TV quality footage of the landing. This brief clip adds a hollywood component to the mission, making it extremely real and vivid. Suddenly putting a robotic laboratory on Mars is an actual thing that we did, and those hauntingly familiar aerial landscapes transform Mars into a real place, where you could actually go.
It gives me goosebumps, it really does!