MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! The Mars Curiosity rover successfully landed on the fourth planet from the sun very early Monday, August 6th, 2012. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California found out the rover landed at 10:32PM PDT (1:32AM EDT). What an incredible accomplishment made by the extremely passionate and talented scientists and engineers of NASA. Here's one of the first few images taken by the Curiosity rover, on Mars, looking toward the highest peak, Mt. Sharp. To put this into perspective, Mt. Sharp is about 3.4 miles taller than Mt. Whitney in California (over 14,500 ft.).
- View from Curiosity rover
The main purpose of this nearly two year mission is to see if there is any sign that life existed once before on Mars. The Curiosity rover will investigate parts of the planet, including Mt. Sharp, to see if there is any evidence of chemical ingredients for life. Here on Earth, we'll be able to follow what the Curiosity is seeing through all the cameras placed on the rover. Take a look at all of the 17 cameras built into the rover.
- Curiosity Cameras
Curiosity was launched on Thanksgiving weekend 2011 and traveled 354 million miles in eight months. The rover is the size of a small car and traveled at 13,200 miles per hour! Now think about this - How do you slow an object, the size of a small car, going more than 13,000 mph, down to about 2 miles per hour to land on a distant planet? Well, that was one of the hardest parts of this mission. Previous Mars missions encountered the same issue when trying to use airbags to slow the rovers down (that didn't work in any of the seven previous missions). Curiosity's landing was dubbed "Seven Minutes of Terror" since the execution of the landing had to fall into place perfectly. A team of talented engineers and scientists devised a new plan that would successfully allow Curiosity to land on Mars. Here is a phenomenal snapshot of the team cheering after learning Curiosity landed safely on Mars.
- NASA scientists cheering
The landing was executed by a parachute that slowed the rover down and then a rocket-powered backpack lowered the rover on a tether (sort of like a crane) down to the middle of Gale Crater on the Martian surface. Check out this amazing image below of the rover attached to the parachute. This shot was taken via NASA's Mars Reconnaissance orbiter (MRO). The HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) took this photograph from 211 miles away (Curiosity was about 2 miles from Mars' surface). The most impressive part of this image was the timing. If the MRO was a second early or a second late in snapping the photo, this shot of the rover and the parachute would not have been taken. The timing was impeccable!
- Curiosity slowing down by the parachute
Read more about Curiosity through NASA's Mars Mission page. What a momentous day in space exploration. It will be exciting to follow the progress of Curiosity's mission and to learn about the possible life and geology of planet Mars.