NASA scraps plan for 3D camera on Mars Rover

Time runs out to get James Cameron-backed camera on Curiosity for 2011 launch

NASA has given up on the hope to build a 3D camera for the next robotic rover that the space agency will send to Mars.

Time simply ran out on efforts to develop the system and get it sufficiently tested before the Mars Science Laboratory rover, which has been dubbed Curiosity, is scheduled to launch later this year.

Movie director James Cameron, of Avatar and Titanic fame, has been helping to build the new camera, which would have both zoom and 3D capabilities.

Cameron has been working with Malin Space Science Systems of San Diego to build what would have been a 3D upgrade to the camera, dubbed Mastcam, already installed on Curiosity.

"With the Mastcam that was installed last year and the rover's other instruments, Curiosity can accomplish its ambitious research goals," Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger said in a written statement.

"The possibility for an upgrade was very much worth pursuing, but time became too short for the levels of testing that would be needed for them to confidently replace the existing cameras," Grotzinger.

Malin Space Science Systems will continue work on the upgraded camera system so it can be used on future missions, according to NASA.

Malin will still have cameras onboard Curiosity for this upcoming mission.

Last April, Malin delivered two cameras that installed on the rover's main mast. The cameras, which are set up for high-definition color video, are designed to take images of the Martian surface surrounding Curiosity, as well as of distant objects.

Cameron's Avatar, which is the highest-grossing movie in history, is widely considered to be the most ambitious 3D film ever produced.

Curiosity is an SUV-sized super rover that will carry cameras, chemistry instruments, environmental sensors and radiation monitors to investigate the Martian surface. All of these instruments are designed to help scientists figure out whether life ever existed on Mars and to prepare to send humans to the Red Planet, NASA says.

The new super rover was scheduled to be sent to Mars in 2009, but its launch has been delayed by funding problems.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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