Moment of truth approaches for local company that built Mars rover cameras


UPDATE: The rover touched down successfully Thursday afternoon. Click here for updates.

SAN DIEGO – Seven years of hard work boils down to “seven minutes of terror.”

Scientists at a lab in Sorrento Valley have been hard at work since 2014 building five special cameras that will attach to the newest NASA drone — and the moment of truth comes when it is scheduled to land on the surface of Mars Thursday.

Malin Space Science Systems has created cameras that orbit the moon, and Jupiter, but this new version is capable of giving us a closer look than we’ve ever had before.

“That will be pretty cool, because no one has ever flown a zoom lens to Mars before,” said Michael Ravine, Advanced Projects Manager for Malin Space Science Systems.

Ravine says some of the new cameras are capable of zooming five-times the normal field of vision. The rover’s plan is to navigate the surface of Mars for the next decade — that is, if it can land safely in the first place. It’s often described as “seven minutes of terror” because so many mechanical issues can arise during the seven-minute descent to the surface of the planet during landing. Most scientists involved in the project will be holding their breath for that period of time, but not Ravine.

“If it crashes, it’s not my fault,” he laughed. “If the cameras don’t work, that’s my fault. Let’s get the cameras on to see if those work, because that’s our part, what we are responsible for.”

The cameras will likely be flipped on for the first time Friday.

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