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4/30/2010
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Avatar Director Helps NASA With Mars Cameras

James Cameron is working with the space agency to outfit the next-generation rover, Curiosity, with 3D cameras.

NASA is getting help from Hollywood director James Cameron to build 3D cameras for the next Mars rover, Curiosity.

The space agency abandoned plans to build cameras with the capability for the rover in 2007 due to budgetary concerns.

That prompted the director " known for blockbuster films Avatar and Titanic-- to step in and personally petitioned the agency to build the cameras, according to NASA. The agency this month said it has delivered the last two of four science cameras -- called Mastcams -- for the rover without 3D capability.

However, it will replace them with two 3D cameras the agency has just started to build with Cameron's gear, if it can be testing and assembled by the time the rover begins final testing early next year.

"Restoring the zoom is not a science issue, although there will be some science benefits,' said Mastcam Principal Investigator Michael Malin in a press statement.

He said that "fixed focal length Mastcams" that are ready for the rover now will "do almost all of the science we originally proposed."

But they are limited in field of view in terms of the images they can deliver, and the 3D zoom Mastcams Cameron is helping the agency build will provide much higher-quality images, Malin said.

"With the zoom Mastcams, we'll be able to take cinematic video sequences in 3D on the surface of Mars," he said in the statement. "This will give our public engagement Co-Investigator, James Cameron, tools similar to those he used on his recent 3D motion picture projects."

Many believe Cameron's Avatar to be the most sophisticated 3D film ever produced.

NASA had planned to send its next-generation rover Curiosity to Mars in 2009, but the project has been delayed by funding concerns. However, NASA has freed up some funds for the Cameron project.

When launched, Curiosity will carry cameras and scientific and environmental instruments designed to find out whether life ever existed on Mars. The mission also is meant to help the agency prepare sending a human being to the planet.

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