After the Curiosity rover touched down on the surface of Mars, it quickly began snapping photos of the Red Planet and transmitting them back to NASA. And while it was amazing to get new images of the far-off world, something about the photos gave people pause: their quality. For the most part, most of them were grainy and blurry. Now we now why.
Speaking with Digital Photography Review, the camera project manager for the Curiosity mission, Mike Ravine, explained that the rover's main cameras were equipped with two megapixel sensors. Yes, your mom's cell phone has a better camera than the rover NASA sent to mars. But, to be fair, that was all that was available when Curiosity was being developed.
"These designs were proposed in 2004, and you don't get to propose one specification and then go off and develop something else," Ravine told Digital Photography Review. "2MP with 8GB of flash [memory] didn't sound too bad in 2004. But it doesn't compare well to what you get in an iPhone today."
Avatar director James Cameron was working with NASA on a 3D camera system that would allow them to show movies of Curiosity going across Mars. Unfortunately, the project wasn't going to be ready in time for launch. The upside of having such paltry cameras is the ease with which the photos can be transmitted back to Earth.