“How many cameras are on the Curiosity?”

The Four-Year-Old's LEGO-scale Curiosity with two of the ten cameras installed.

In the midst of adding one of two planned cameras to her LEGO-scale model of the Mars Rover Curiosity, The Four-Year-Old paused to ask, “How many cameras are on the Curiosity?”

After hunting around on the web for a while, we found an indirect reference to the cameras on the Mars Rover Curiosity in this FAQ from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In discussing how the cameras are protected from dust and debris during the building of the Rover, its launch into space, and subsequent landing on Mars, the author inadvertently let slip that there are at least four types of cameras on-board Curiosity: Hazcam, Mastcam, Navcam, and MAHLI cameras.

Armed with this preliminary data, we marched straight to Wikipedia where we learned:

  • Hazcam stands for Hazard Avoidance Cameras. Two pairs of these aptly named black and white 3D beauties have been installed on the four corners of the Mars Rover to enable the Curiosity to keep an eye out for possible hazards, avoid obstacles, and safely position its robotic arm as it explores the Martian surface.  Total Hazcam cameras: 4
  • Filmmaker James Cameron helped design the Mastcams. The two Mastcam cameras on the Curiosity can take 1600×1200 pixel true color images or high-definition video at speeds of up to 10 frames per second. Total Mastcam cameras: 2.
  • Navcams really is short for Navigation cameras. And they do what you think. Instead of being mounted on the corners of the Rover, however, the Navcams are mounted on the mast. Each black and white Navcam is capable of 3-D imagery and has a 45 degree field of view. Total Navcam cameras: 2
  • NASA’s acronym-making ability broke down a bit when it came to naming the MAHLI. The MAHLI (or Mars Hand Lens Imager) mounted on the end of the Rover’s arm will be used to take high-resolution, microscopic, true color pictures of rocks and soil on the planet’s surface. Total MAHLI cams: 1
  • Not willing to miss a minute of the mission, NASA even tacked on a camera to record the Rover’s 2-minute descent onto the Red Planet. When the Mars Rover is about 3.7 km from the planet’s surface, the MSL Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will begin taking 1600×1200 color images of the descent. The MARDI will continue snapping pics at about 5 frames per second until the Rover is a mere 5 meters from the ground (or until 2 minutes is up, whichever comes first). Total MARDI cameras: 1.

After realizing that scientific accuracy required increasing the number of cameras on her LEGO-scale Curiosity from 2 to 10, The Four-Year-Old immediately began lobbying for another trip to the LEGO store to acquire the necessary components. Negotiations are currently underway as to whether black eye stickers and LEGO one-block bricks could be used to construct an acceptable substitute.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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2 Responses to “How many cameras are on the Curiosity?”

  1. Pingback: Mid-Week Science News Update: Space ballet | CATERPICKLES

  2. Pingback: Mommyo gets bad news about her Christmas list and Other News of the Week | CATERPICKLES

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