NASA Rover Curiosity Lands Successfully on Mars, To Explore Surface for 2 Years
August 6, 2012 1:04 PM
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.
"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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