We can’t help but tune into the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s daily news conference about NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission.
For the most part, the scientists talk about the nitty gritty details of getting the Curiosity Rover going and onto doing some science. They talk about reorienting antennas and about how a higher-than-predicted temperature won’t have a significant effect on the mission.
But during today’s conference we got an amazing view of the Red Planet. They gave us the rover’s first full-frame photograph, which shows the rim of the Gale Crater:
It was obvious that John Grotzinger, the mission’s project manager, was excited about the image. He started by cracking a joke.
“You would be forgiven if you thought NASA was pulling a fast one and dropped a rover in the middle of the Mojave Desert,” he said to laughs. But, no, this is Mars and it is just stunning how Earth-like it is.
Grotzinger also pointed out a curious detail in the picture: You can see the indentations left behind by the rockets used by the rover to land. Grotzinger said this is great, because it means the rover will save some time by not having to dig.
He also noted that what we can see underneath all the dust is bedrock.
Here’s what JPL has to say about the scenary you’re seeing in the photo: “The topography of the rim is very mountainous due to erosion. The ground seen in the middle shows low-relief scarps and plains. The foreground shows two distinct zones of excavation likely carved out by blasts from the rover’s descent stage thrusters.”
NASA also released some panoramic photographs. Those are thumbnails though and mostly intended to give the scientists an idea of any obstacles facing the rover.
So far, it’s all good news. It looks like it has free reign.