One year ago today the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity made the most spectacular Entry, Descent, and Landing sequence of any spacecraft ever to set down on the Red Planet. The whole world watched and I was among those watching the real-time webcast from JPL. And even though I understood what was about to happen, I still couldn’t believe it was actually happening:
One year later, and I still can’t believe it actually worked, but I’m so happy it did!
By now you’ve probably seen several of the videos of MSL Curiosity’s descent to the surface of Mars, but I betcha haven’t seen it like this:
Is that incredible or what? This video is brought to us not by NASA, but by Bard Canning, an “amateur” video engineer who obviously put a lot of work into creating this magnificent video.
The video is actually an interpolation of the original high-resolution video taken by the Mars Descent Imager mounted at the bottom of Curiosity. The original video was taken at a rate of of just 4 frames per second (fps), resulting in a very jerky visual. To create the smooth, natural motion, Bard had to increase the frame rate from 4fps to 30fps. But those frames don’t actually exist, so Bard had to create them!
Bard does this by using a technique called motion-flow interpolation. In other words, he had to work frame-by-frame for 4 weeks straight, creating 26 additional frames by comparing the differences between the 4 frames of the original video – for each second of footage!
But that’s not all – Bard worked hard to stabilize the video, since Curiosity was obviously swinging wildly on the way down, and even tweak the color balance of every frame of footage.
The result is a smooth, natural feeling of what it must have been like to actually descend with Curiosity through the atmosphere and land on the surface of Mars. Coupled with the actual sound from the spacecraft, and you have a video that feels more real than the actual footage!