Seconds later, we had an image of a rover wheel on the Martian Surface.
The first images from Mars seemed grainy and blurry, but that’s just because the camera lenses still had their protective clear lens covers on. Once those popped off – after a safe time during which the dust settled – we got the clearest images of Mars yet. All of the lower rover cameras, those that are close to the ground, had those dust covers, since unlike all previous rovers, Curiosity was actually “outside” during the landing.
Past rovers all had issues with dust accumulation on their camera lenses and solar panels, Curiosity won’t have those problems as much – the high quality camera lenses on the upright mast all have baffles – kind of like a visor on a baseball cap – and when not in use the cameras will be pointed downwards, Curiosity will essentially be hanging her head, so that far less dust will get stuck on the lenses.
Last Wednesday I was in a teleconference with Aaron Sengstacken, who is the camera systems engineer for Curiosity, and of course he knows everything about those cameras and can literally talk about them for days. As a systems engineer it’s his job to make sure that the cameras (which were built by outside contractors) work with all the rover software and perform as designed, so there’s a lot of software development and coding needed. He mentioned that one of the reasons that they don’t install wipers or blowers is because the more mechanics you add to a rover, the more things can go wrong. And wouldn’t you hate having a grain of sand getting stuck in your wiper blade during the first week and either scratch the lens or worse yet – keep the blade stuck in front of the lens permanently? You can’t send a repair technician up there, after all.