NASA’s rover Curiosity successfully carried out a highly challenging landing on Mars early Monday, transmitting images back to Earth after traveling hundreds of millions of miles through space to explore the red planet.
“This is a stunning achievement. The engineering went flawlessly,” said Scott Hubbard, who was the first Mars program director at NASA headquarters and is now a consulting professor at Stanford University. Some rover team specialists are analyzing the data from the landing, while others are preparing Curiosity for exploring Gale Crater, where it landed, NASA said.
The $2.6 billion Curiosity made its dramatic arrival on Martian terrain in a spectacle popularly known as the “seven minutes of terror.” This jaw-dropping landing process, involving a sky crane and the world’s largest supersonic parachute, allowed the spacecraft carrying Curiosity to target the landing area that scientists had meticulously chosen. The mission control in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory burst into cheers as the rover touched down Monday morning. Team members hugged and high-fived one another as Curiosity beamed back the first pictures from the planet, while some shed tears.
At the news conference, NASA showed off some of the initial images, including one of Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 miles above the floor of the Gale Crater, according to NASA. Scientists cannot tell yet how easy it will be to scoop up the surface material. The initial images the SUV-size rover sent back to Earth were black and white and grainy, but one showed its wheel resting on the stony ground, and the vehicle’s shadow appeared in another.
The spacecraft had been traveling away from Earth since November 26 on a journey of about 352 million miles (567 million kilometers), according to NASA. Curiosity, which will be controlled from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has a full suite of sophisticated tools for exploring Mars. The aim of its work is “to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms,” NASA said.
What interesting stuff could Curiosity discover in Mars? Is Curiosity’s successful landing a sign that space exploration will soon be back to full throttle soon?
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