James Cameron disappointed as NASA scraps 3D plans

NASA says it’s abandoned plans for two high-resolution 3D cameras to be carried by the next Mars rover.

Avatar director James Cameron successfully lobbied for the inclusion of the zoom-lens cameras a year ago after earlier plans were dropped for budgetary reasons.

This time, though, the problem isn’t lack of money – it’s lack of time. Malin Space Science Systems of San Diego has been working on the project for a year.

“Malin Space Science Systems has provided excellent, unprecedented science cameras for this mission. The possibility for a zoom-camera 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,” says Mars Science Laboratory project scientist John Grotzinger.

“We applaud Malin Space Science Systems for their tremendous effort to deliver the zooms, and also the Mars Science Laboratory Project’s investment in supporting this effort.”

Instead, the Curiosity rover, due for launch in August this year for a two-year mission, will have to make do with  the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument. This uses two fixed-focal-length cameras: a telephoto for one eye and wider angle for the other.

“With the Mastcam that was installed last year and the rover’s other instruments, Curiosity can accomplish its ambitious research goals,” says Grotzinger.

Cameron says he’s disappointed by the decision, but believes the work won’t all have been in vain.

“While Curiosity won’t benefit from the 3D motion imaging that the zooms enable, I’m certain that this technology will play an important role in future missions,” he says.

“In the meantime, we’re certainly going to make the most of our cameras that are working so well on Curiosity right now.”