NASA‘s 3D Mars Camera

by Dan Barrett / /

The Mars Science Laboratory, the rover known as Curiosity, has had a complicated life and it hasn't even left Earth yet. Curiosity will be over five times as heavy and carry ten times as much weight in scientific instruments as the rovers now in service, Spirit and Opportunity. Originally scheduled for a 2009 launch, NASA planners have pushed back the probe's service date to sometime next year amid technical difficulties and development troubles.

Costs have also ballooned as timelines keep lengthening. According NASA Public Relations, the original estimate pegged the project (both development and life-cycle) at $1.6 billion in 2006. Three years later, the same project is expected to total $2.3 billion. Even with a larger vehicle and more tools for planetary scientists, can a 144% cost increase be justified?

NASA officials did take steps toward getting the project back on track with a noticeable reduction in Curiosity's optics – specifically a main camera which would have an enhanced scope to make it 3D capable. Filmmaker James Cameron successfully pushed for the upgraded camera, citing "a rover with a better set of eyes will help the public connect with the mission." A point to be made here is Cameron is a member of the company providing the agency with many of its cameras.