Early Monday morning (late in the afternoon on Mars), NASA’s newest Mars rover, Curiosity, successfully landed on the red planet. The moment led to joyful celebration at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which will now test Curiosity’s equipment and send the craft on a $2.5 billion mission to explore Mars. Scientists hope to use data from Curiosity to see if Mars was ever suitable for life.
Loaded with instruments and equipment, Curiosity is the largest lander that NASA has ever attempted to set on Mars. Previous Mars exploration vehicles relied on air bags to cushion their descent. Curiosity utilized a new, automated system that involved retro-rockets, tethers, high-speed maneuvering, and a supersonic parachute. NASA officials had no way to field test the system prior to launch; at 1:31 a.m. Monday morning, they got their answer.
“Touchdown confirmed,” said engineer Allen Chen. “We’re safe on Mars.”
Minutes after touchdown, due to the 14-minute delay on transmissions, Curiosity sent back black-and-white photos of the Martian surface. It has been more than eight months since Curiosity began its 352 million mile journey, which concluded with a seven-minute trip through Mars atmosphere at 13,000 MPH. NASA had waited a long time and through stressful moments to see if their pricey gamble would pay off.
“We’re on Mars again,” said NASA chief Charles Bolden. “It’s just absolutely incredible. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Curiosity will begin its journey by searching through the Gale Crater for a two year study into the composition of Mars now and in the past. Scientists hope to find evidence of water or the remains of a lake bed.
“[Curiosity] is not going to be looking for life directly, but it’s going to be looking for past habitability,” says Samuel Kounaves, one of the scientists who will analyze the data from Curiosity, in an interview with NPR. “We’re looking to see if the elements required for life are there.”
Since the 1960s, dozens of space crafts that were launched with Mars in sight. Most did not make the journey successfully. Since 1988, the United States, the Soviet Union (at the time), Japan, and the EU have tried to send 16 vehicles to Mars with only a 50 percent success rate.
Curiosity’s successful landing is a big deal to NASA because of the 13 previous attempts to reach the Martian surface, only seven ever transmitted back any data. On the other six occasions, the landing vehicle crashed, lost contact on the way to Mars, missed the planet entirely, or failed during takeoff.
Of all the countries that have tried, the US has fared the best in Martian landing attempts. Six of our seven attempts to land on the surface were successful. A particular note is the Opportunity rover, which is still functional and submitting images after landing on the southern hemisphere of Mars eight years ago.
Mars Rover Curiosity Landing
The most high-tech rover NASA has ever designed has now landed on Mars, after making an acrobatic landing on the planet’s surface.
NASA’s Mars Landing Video Temporarily Taken Down
NASA’s official video of the NASA staff reacting to its rover landing on Mars late Sunday night was temporarily removed from YouTube. The video indicated that it was taken down due to copyrighted content from Scripps Local News.