If James Cameron gets his way, Mars could be getting the Pandora treatment when NASA launches its newest rover Curiosity on an ambitious mission to the red planet next year.
The famed "Avatar" director, whose own 3-D camerawork has revolutionized the cinematic industry, has convinced NASA to mount a 3-D camera on top of Curiosity's mast for the upcoming Martian mission, scheduled to launch in 2011.
Cameron believes that including a camera with 3-D capabilities will help engage the public and generate more excitement about Curiosity's work.
"It's a very ambitious mission. It's a very exciting mission," Cameron said according to the Pasadena Star-News. "(The scientists are) going to answer a lot of really important questions about the previous and potential future habitability on Mars."
Cameron spoke in a Tuesday event at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which is near NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena where the Curiosity rover is being built.
Cameron lobbied the space agency to include the 3-D camera on Curiosity's mission after JPL scaled back plans for such a device in 2007, as a way to compensate for the $2.3 billion mission being consistently over budget and behind schedule.
In January, Cameron met NASA chief Charles Bolden and was able to convince him and the space agency to purchase a 3-D camera for Curiosity, the director said. It would replace the mast camera (without 3-D capabilities) that has already been built and was delivered to JPL this month.
While the Curiosity team is unsure whether the new camera will be ready in time, they are eagerly anticipating the camera's potential to record Martian movies at a rate of 10 frames per second, reported the Star-News.
"You could take a movie and image clouds moving in the sky or a dust devil moving," said Joy Crisp, JPL deputy project scientist on Mars Science Laboratory, the official name for the rover project. "As you're driving, you could take a movie."
Now, it will be up to the Malin Space Science Systems, the San Diego-based company charged with building several of Curiosity's cameras, to scramble to build the 3-D camera in time.
"It's a thrill to be on even a tiny part of the mission," Cameron told the Star-News.
Cameron also spoke about the Earthly inspirations used to create the fictional world of Pandora, the moon location of his mega-hit "Avatar."
The filmmaker revealed that Pandora was created to look exotic and foreign, while still maintaining elements that audiences could identify and relate to.
"We tried to make it not completely fanciful," Cameron told the audience at the event titled "Is Pandora Possible?" "If it was too outlandish, there would be a believability gap."
To achieve this, Cameron took cues from flora, fauna and various other phenomena on Earth to create Pandora, which was conceived as a moon in the Alpha Centauri system.
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