The Moon, April 23, 1972. During the final moonwalk of the Apollo 16 mission, astronaut Charlie Duke photographs while mission commander John Young does some raking near the lunar rover. (NASA)
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Curiosity’s epic arrival on the surface of Mars. To celebrate, immerse yourself in every eye-popping detail of Curiosity’s harrowing plummet to the Martian surface in this ultra-high-definition video.
Independent video producer Bard Canning spent four weeks painstakingly reprocessing imagery released earlier by NASA showing the rover’s near-perfect descent as captured by its onboard Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), a downward facing camera.
The original imagery, 297 frames, was compiled by NASA into a video that shows the rover’s final two-and-a-half minutes of a 14-minute, hair-raising descent that involved an abrupt 14,000-mile-per-hour to zero slowdown. The rover began capturing the imagery just before it ejected its heat shield, which can be seen in the first few seconds of the video.
Canning used a video processing technique known as motion-flow interpolation, which involves creating new frames to fit in between existing frames, increasing the overall frame rate from the original, which was just 4-frames-per-second, and making the video appear more fluid at 30 frames-per-second. He also enhanced the color and the detail of the imagery and re-rendered it at “enterprise-quality 1080p, 50,000 kbps (instead of the usual ~1000kbps).”
“I manually added thousands of motion-tracking and adjustment points,” Canning wrote of his process on Reddit, “I had to go the laborious manual route because the frame-rate is too low causing the footage to jerk around too quickly for automated motion tracking to handle it.”
On top of everything, Canning added something that other Mars descent videos have lacked: sound. Simulating the rover’s booming entry from space into the high atmosphere and then the quieter whooshing winds of Mars as it was lowered on its supersonic parachute really adds to the realism of the video.
Canning said he contacted NASA about the video, and that several people involved with the mission have gotten back to him, one who even requested to use it in NASA marketing material.
To get a nice behind-the-scenes look at Canning’s process, he has helpfully provided a “making of” video.