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James Cameron building 3D cam for Mars rover

"Avatar" director is helping NASA build a 3D camera that will ride to Mars on the next rover, Curiosity. Cameron wants the high-res cam to help people get exciting about Martian exploration.

An artist's 2007 concept of the Curiosity rover. The rover is designed to examine whether Mars is or was habitable. NASA

Oscar-winning director James Cameron is helping NASA develop a high-resolution 3D camera for the next Mars rover, Curiosity, due to launch in 2011.

The director of "Avatar" and other sci-fi flicks believes the public will better understand the mission if the rover has 3D imaging capabilities, according to a CBS News report.

Budget overruns had forced NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to rethink plans to mount a 3D cam on Curiosity, but Cameron apparently convinced NASA administrator Charles Bolden that wasn't a good idea.

The Mast Camera 34mm fixed focal length flight camera, designed for NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. MSSS

Cameron is working with San Diego-based Malin Space Science Systems to build the 3D camera, which will be installed on a mast aboard Curiosity.

Malin has already delivered fixed-focal-length lens cameras (34mm and 100mm) to NASA for the mast system and is currently working on getting the 3D camera to the agency before final rover testing next year. The Mastcams will be used to image the area around Curiosity as well as the distant horizon.

NASA's decision to include the 3D Mastcam will give Curiosity the ability to film cinematic sequences of Mars. For "Avatar," Cameron and colleagues developed a lightweight 3D digital camera system, the Fusion Camera System, that provided audiences with an unprecedented visual experience.

Curiosity, officially known as the Mars Science Laboratory, will launch in the fall of next year, but we got a preview of a full-scale model last July. Its mission will be to study the habitability of Mars and whether it can or did support microbial life. If any life forms are found, we'll be seeing them in stereo.