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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: Great job!
By Jeffk464 on 8/7/2012 12:27:06 AM , Rating: 2
Yes america, were Number 1 and 3/64ths not no wimpy decimal points.

RE: Great job!
By Bad-Karma on 8/7/2012 4:41:27 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, but what really is maddening is when I was stationed over at RAF Mildenhal, the locals would always give us grief about our system while constantly expounding the virtues of the metric one. But in the next breath the damn hypocrites would state how much so and so weighed in "stone"! But I do believe it was just a good across the pond ribbing and in good fun.

Also, I seldom heard them order a beer in liters, it was usually in pints. But I found that most Brits understood both systems rather fluently and could easily do the conversions in their head. Just as many of us Americans do as well.

Conversely when I was Aviano Ab, Italy if you made an absent minded mistake of asking for something in standard units they had no a clue as to what you were asking. Most common was when we would need to procure Jet fuel from somewhere we happened to stop (outside of a US base). We always on-load fuel measured in "pounds" since that is a direct relation as to our fuel consumption over time. Many times if we'd forgot to do the conversion during the order, and you'd just be left waiting, as though the Italians considered it an insult.

RE: Great job!
By Jeffk464 on 8/7/2012 8:20:19 PM , Rating: 2
What a coincidence, I spent a month at Moldyhall working on H53's, good times. The military is so much more fun without war. :) My base went from tours to Korea, England, and Germany to tours to the middle east. Any travel agent will tell you that's not a good trend.

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