NoelC wrote:It's hard to imagine that they couldn't think to leave the camera design to the last possible minute. Hell, they could have put a consumer dSLR in a box of lead glass and done way better than this. Don't laugh, a dSLR in a box is how red light traffic cameras are implemented.
No, it wouldn't work. I've designed space-borne cameras (guiders), and I know something about this. A consumer DSLR would be dead after a few months in space without extreme shielding. If the electronics survived, the sensor would be a mass of defects. Electronic devices need to be robust and radiation hardened. New devices are neither... consumer devices push the boundaries of fabrication technology. Every electronic device you own is living on the edge of failure. That's simply not an acceptable option for something like a Mars mission. So the electronics is fabricated using large chip scales and packaged and certified for a high radiation environment. These circuits bear little resemblance to what is found in consumer electronics.
In addition, the way probes like this are designed does not allow waiting to the last possible minute for anything. Everything has to play together perfectly, and has to be tested together from a fairly early stage. Tacking on some separately tested component late in the process would simply be asking for disaster.
Limitations on the data bandwidth I can understand, but there have been decent compression techniques around for quite a while. And what's the purpose of an exploration vehicle if not to return the best possible imagery and other data? Look at what comes back from Cassini.
99% of what comes back from Cassini is aesthetically awful. All of it requires extensive post processing to even begin to look reasonable to the eye. The "best possible imagery" does not necessarily equate to the most aesthetically pleasing imagery. I would guess that the mission planners would consider it a waste of time to produce a very high resolution, undistorted panorama... especially this early in the mission. The panorama was produced to provide an idea of the lander's environment. That it's a cool image in its own right is secondary. With an overview of the terrain, the rover can be repositioned, or the camera can be aimed and zoomed on something of interest. This panorama is primarily a tool, not an important dataset in a scientific sense.
And regarding image processing... Even consumer software does a HUGELY better job stitching panoramas than what we're seeing here.
If you use it. But it isn't the mission of these people to produce panoramas. I expect they're just using Photoshop to combine the images. Later, I'm sure they'll be using custom software to provide a mapping between pixel position and the actual angle of the ray it represents... in effect, undistorting the images. That's not something consumer software does in any well characterized fashion.
I was hoping to have my socks blown off by the APOD today. Hopes dashed. :(
Personally, I think anybody who isn't blown away by an image like this should just shoot themselves, because they have no real sense of wonder left. What's amazing about the image isn't its abstract quality, but what we are actually seeing!