NASA’s rover Curiosity lands safely on Mars
Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)NASA’s Mars science rover Curiosity performed a daredevil descent through pink Martian skies yesterday to clinch a historic landing inside an ancient crater and begin a search for signs the red planet may have once harbored key ingredients for life.
Mission controllers burst into applause and cheers as they received signals confirming the car-sized rover had survived a perilous seven-minute descent, which NASA called the most elaborate and difficult feat in the annals of robotic spaceflight.
Celebrations by the mission team were so joyous the director of the space program Charles Elachi had to plead for calm in order to hold a press conference. He compared the group to athletic teams that go to the Olympics. “This team came back with the gold,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
Engineers said the tricky landing sequence, which combined a giant parachute with a rocket-pack that lowered the rover to the Martian surface on a tether, allowed for no margin of error.
The $2.5 billion Curiosity project, formally called the Mars Science Laboratory, is NASA’s first astrobiology mission since the 1970s-era Viking probes.
Obama himself issued a statement hailing the Curiosity landing as “an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future.”
NASA plans to put the one-ton, six-wheeled, nuclear-powered rover and its sophisticated instruments through several weeks of engineering checks before starting its two-year surface mission in earnest.
Launched on Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the robotic lab sailed through space for more than eight months, covering 566 million kilometers, before piercing Mars’ thin atmosphere at 20,921 kilometers per hour, 17 times the speed of sound, to start its descent. Curiosity is designed to spend the next two years exploring Gale Crater and an unusual five-kilometer-high mountain consisting of what appears to be sediment rising from the crater’s floor. Over the next several days, Curiosity is expected to send back the first color pictures. After several weeks of health checkups, the six-wheeled rover could take its first short drive and flex its robotic arm, according to The Associated Press.
Its primary mission is to look for evidence that Mars may have once hosted the basic building blocks necessary for microbial life to evolve. The rover comes equipped with an array of sophisticated instruments capable of analyzing samples of soil, rocks and atmosphere on the spot and beaming the results back to Earth.
Mission controllers were joined by 1,400 scientists, engineers and dignitaries who tensely waited to learn of Curiosity’s fate, among them film star Morgan Freeman.
-The mission’s goal is to determine whether Mars has ever had the conditions to support life.
-The project cost $2.5 billion, and initial surface operations will last two years.
-Onboard plutonium generators will deliver heat and electricity for at least 14 years.
-The rover is equipped with tools to brush and drill into rocks, and to scoop up, sort and sieve samples, as well as a variety of analytical techniques to discern the chemistry of rocks, soil and the atmosphere.
-The rover will try to make the first definitive identification of organic (carbon rich) compounds on Mars.
-It even carries a laser to zap rocks: the beam will identify atomic elements in rocks.