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A Study In Red

Despite all the hoop-lah and back-slapping surrounding the Curiosity rover, I am once again disappointed.  The cause of my disappointment is the first color photo returned from the rover.  NASA has proved yet again that, despite billions of dollars in technology and amazing landing sequences, they can't take a simple, natural color photo.

NASA seems hell-bent on giving us ruddy colored photos that look as if two of the three-color channels are not functioning.

After all, if you take NASA's blood-red photos into PhotoShop and do a simple auto-correction on the color, you end up with brilliant blue-gray skies and ocre colored landscapes that look as if they could be vacation shots of Arizona or Utah.

Not that they don't tease once in a while.  After the previous two rovers landed, NASA held a press conference showing a natural color photo in the background.  Less than 24 hours later, all the photos had returned to the ruddy red rubbish that we are constantly fed.

Are they worried that we will mistake the photos for some earthly vista?  Or are they trying to make Mars look so inhospitable as to discourage human exploration?

Curiosity has 17 cameras, including two HD cams with different focal lengths mounted on the mast.  It has eight filters on a wheel to allow photos in different wavelengths that reveal different aspects of the geology.  Once of the filters is clear and is supposed to take photos the mimic what the human eye would see from the height of a human's head.  What's the bet that even those photos will be horribly red-shifted.

The photo of the heat shield falling away as the rover was entering Mars' atmosphere appears to show fairly normal colors, judging by the colors or the heat shield, which don't show everything ruddy red.  The MRO photo of the rover and parachute also show fairly normal colors, judging by Earth-side photos of the parachute.  In fact, most photos from Mars appear fairly normal EXCEPT when the sky is visible.

Every time the sky enters the frame, suddenly the colors go to hell and everything becomes the ubiquitous ruddy red.

I'm finding it very difficult to get excited when I know I'm being fed a load of crap using my tax money to do it.  I have been a gung-ho fan of space exploration since I was old enough to know what I was seeing.  There are a lot of other folks who are, as well.  Furthermore, these projects are supposed to be motivators to draw fresh young minds into the business of exploration.

Why would they want to joint a program that so blatantly lies and obfuscates truths as simple as a cheap color photo that most cell phones to run laps around?

I am reserving my enthusiasm for this latest mission until I see evidence that NASA will start giving us even something as simple as a good color photo.  If they continue this ruddy red ruse, then I will continue to believe that they are deliberately hiding much bigger things.

If they can fly this package across 350 million miles, slam it into an alien atmosphere, sail it to within a couple of hundred meters of the target, then why can't they deliver a decent color photo?  The only possible answer is a deliberate effort to hide any and all real information from the very people who pay for it.

In the meantime, I will be sitting on my hands.  I was duly awed by the success of the landing, but that is only one small step in a mission scheduled to last two years, and capable of going over 100 years.  A child born today could conceivably have this machine functioning until the day the same child dies at 80 years old.

Let's hope that in all that time, NASA will finally have enough respect for the people who pay for their toys to offer us a little real information.  And let's start with a damn decent color photo or two.

UPDATE: Because of our chiding (probably not, but we'll take credit), NASA has suddenly - and for the first time in 40 years - decided to start releasing natural color photos of Mars.  They're saying the photos have been artificially colored through a process called "white balancing".

Well, duh, boys.  Every video camera ever invented since the dawn of the color era must be white balanced. It's a standard process that has been a consistent function of video camera use for 45 years.  After all this time, NASA has just discovered it, only they are saying that it is an artificial color process.

Ya know, for a bunch of PhDs with some supposed mental fire-power, these guys are freakin' idiots.