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Mars rover Curiosity's shadow in Gale Crater  (Source: NASA Twitter)
The $2.5 billion project was made in hopes of discovering that the Red Planet once harbored materials needed for life

NASA celebrated a major victory early Monday morning as its Mars rover Curiosity made a successful landing on the Red Planet. 
 
NASA rover Curiosity is a one-ton, nuclear-powered, six-wheeled, Mini Cooper-sized machine that was originally called the Mars Science Laboratory -- because that's exactly what it is. It was made to explore Martian territory for a two-year period in hopes of discovering that the planet once harbored materials needed for life. The project cost $2.5 billion.
 
Curiosity launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 26, 2011. It has made its way through space for eight months before touching down on Mars. It covered about 352 million miles during that eight-month period.
 
This morning's landing was not an easy one. Many doubted that NASA could pull off such a stunt because the actual maneuver consisted of a giant parachute and a rocket pack lowering the huge laboratory onto a specific area, and errors were not allowed if NASA engineers wanted Curiosity to stay intact. Also, about 70 percent of missions to Mars have ended in failure, so landing the largest vehicle on the planet seemed impossible.
 
"It's like us launching something from Kennedy Space Center and having it land in the Rose Bowl, on the 50-yard-line, on a frisbee," said Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator. 
 
The landing was the most sophisticated and largest of its kind. Over a period of seven minutes, which NASA referred to as "seven minutes of terror," a series of maneuvers took place to ensure that Curiosity landed safely. Seventy-nine pyrotechnic detonations were required for the release of exterior ballast weights, deploying the parachute, removal from the heat shield, etc. If any of these were to fail, the mission would've failed. 
 
However, after entering Martian atmosphere at a speed of over 13,000 MPH, then hitting Martian soil, Earth received radio signals for confirmation of its landing after a bit of a delay. It landed at 1:32 a.m. EDT in the exact area that it was supposed to reach -- the Gale Crater.
 
At that point, NASA engineers celebrated and high-fived over the successful landing. 
 
"There are many out in the community that say NASA has lost its way, that we don't know how to explore, that we've lost our moxie," said John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "I want you to look around tonight. All those folks with the blue shirts, and think about what we've achieved. I think it's fair to say that NASA knows how to explore. We've been exploring, and we're on Mars." 
 
The project may have cost $900 million over budget, but it turned out to be a great milestone for American space travel. NASA definitely needed this boost after retiring its space shuttle fleet last year, which consisted of the Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis spacecrafts. American astronauts were then left to depend on Russia to reach the International Space Station (ISS), but private rocket company SpaceX stepped in to save the day shortly thereafter. SpaceX, which is owned by Elon Musk, successfully launched its unmanned Dragon capsule to the ISS in May. 
 
Curiosity will now undergo a series of tests before searching for signs of life (or the ingredients for life) on the Red Planet for two years. It will use instruments like a large robot arm, a weather station, a laser that can vaporize rocks at seven meters, a percussive drill and 4.8kg of plutonium-238. 

Sources: NASA, USA Today, CNN



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RE: Just further proof...
By FaaR on 8/6/2012 2:10:05 PM , Rating: 3
What a ridiculous post! There's so much wrong with everything, from your painfully flawed grasp of facts, to your inability to apply logical thinking and everything inbetween. You could scarcely have gotten anything more wrong had you actually tried.

This mission was a lot more difficult to achieve compared to those in the past due to the size of the rover the United States landed. Previous rovers have landed on the surface using shock-absorbing airbags, but those weighed less than 200kg. The Curiosity is a 1-tonne plus vehicle.

And the landing process is no different than the Apollo landing either, you're correct there Sir. No different, since Neill and Buzz landed on the moon first by aerobreaking through the moon's atmosphere whilst guidance thrusters kept them on course, then fired a supersonic parachute to reduce speed further, then released from the chute and free-fell for a second before switching to landing thrusters to bring speed down further and then gently being winched down the last ten-fifteen meters or so to the lunar surface.

Yes, that was exactly how Apollo 11 landed. Trust me, I know these things just as well as you do!


RE: Just further proof...
By hduser on 8/6/2012 2:18:17 PM , Rating: 3
You forgot the part where on Mars, everything is done remotely and autonomously. It'd already landed before we knew about it. Apollo moon landing was done in real time.


RE: Just further proof...
By delphinus100 on 8/6/2012 9:04:28 PM , Rating: 2
Well, about 1.5 seconds behind events.

And that might not have worked, left to itself. As Neil noted later, they were coming to 'a football field sized crater full of boulders,' for which he had to extend the approach and land beyond, getting very close to their fuel limits...

The Curiosity landing would have been somewhat less tense, if a pilot could have been present (or if FTL direct control were possible...)


RE: Just further proof...
By Fritzr on 8/8/2012 1:57:53 AM , Rating: 2
Now don't give him too much credit ... He had a good 10 seconds of flight time left in the tanks when he touched down at the alternate site he chose just before he would have smashed the lander on the planned site.

The Mars lander did not have the luxury of a last second change in plans since it would have been a pile of junk long before mission control discovered a mistake in landing sites.

The sky crane gently setting the rover down on whatever was there made sure that it would survive almost any type of terrain.

Good advance planning meant that many complex systems failed to succumb to Murphy and there appears to be nothing stopping the rover from driving away once all the post landing checklists are completed and operators have had a chance to look at the pictures of the landing site returned by rover.


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