Advanced Mars Rover Curiosity Lands on Red Planet

First Posted: Aug 06, 2012 07:37 AM EDT

It was a big day for NASA when the most advanced Mars rover curiosity made a flawless landing on the Red planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars at 1:31 a.m. EDT Monday on August 6 putting an end to a 36 week flight and commencing into a new two year investigation.

What is fascinating about this Mars Science Laboratory Spacecraft is that it succeeded in every step as this was one of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack.

"Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars -- or if the planet can sustain life in the future," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

"This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030's, and today's landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal," he said.

The first amazing image Curiosity sent was that of its own shadow on Mars's rock uneven surface. This joyous moment arrived after the "Seven minutes of Terror" namely the seven minutes of slowdown between spacecraft hitting Mar's atmosphere at 20,000 kilometers per hour and making a smooth successful landing on the surface.

The smooth flawless eventful landing occurred on August 6 near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater.

"The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph," said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld. "My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission's team."

During its two year stay in Mars, Curiosity Mars is expected to investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.

"Our Curiosity is talking to us from the surface of Mars," said MSL Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The landing takes us past the most hazardous moments for this project, and begins a new and exciting mission to pursue its scientific objectives."

The details of Curiosity's successful landing came in communications relayed by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter and received by the Canberra, Australia, antenna station of NASA's Deep Space Network.

Geologist David Blake, creator of a $40 million tool on Curiosity that will do extensive soil analysis of the planet, was happy and tired after the successful landing. "Wow. I'm exhausted from jumping up and down," he said in a room at JPL, filled with 400 grinning scientists. "It was picture perfect. It almost seemed dreamlike."

A six-wheeled, nuclear-powered geochemistry laboratory, Curiosity is the size of a small car - five times heavier and twice as long as previous Mars rovers. It is equipped with a suite of powerful instruments, including 17 cameras, lasers and a radiation detector. Tools like laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance are first of their kind to be taken to Mars. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.

The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater's interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

See Now: NASA's Juno Spacecraft's Rendezvous With Jupiter's Mammoth Cyclone

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