NASA has landed its car-sized Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars! The rover – NASA’s most advanced yet – touched down inside the 150km-wide Gale Crater at 06:32 BST on Monday 6 August. Having completed its epic 36-week, 570-million-km journey, Curiosity will now begin its search for evidence that Mars may once have harboured life.
Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California looked on anxiously as the rover went through its automatic landing procedure. Billed by NASA as the mission’s ‘Seven Minutes of Terror’, this process involved slowing the rover down via an enormous heat shield and a supersonic parachute, before using a futuristic, never-seen-before ‘sky crane’ to lower the rover to the Martian surface.
Engineers at JPL celebrate the landing of NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
In the end, this audacious landing couldn’t have gone any smoother. "The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph," said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld. "My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by the overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission's team."
And Curiosity also seemed pretty chuffed to have reached its final destination. “I'm safely on the surface of Mars,” announced the rover via its Twitter page. “GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!!” Indeed, no sooner had Curiosity arrived on Mars than it began to snap photos of its surroundings like a particularly enthusiastic tourist. These low-resolution, greyscale images were taken by the Hazard-Avoidance cameras attached to the rover’s body:
Two of the first images taken by Curiosity's Hazard-Avoidance cameras: the rover's shadow (left) and looking out across Gale Crater (right). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The first colour photos of Curiosity’s new home are expected to be released over the next couple of days, taken by the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) as the rover descended and, later on, by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), one of the instruments on the rover’s robotic, Inspector Gadget-like arm.
So it won’t be long before we get to see some sure-to-be-stunning images of the Red Planet in all her glory. It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for six wheels.
Edit (09/08/12): Here's the first full-resolution shot of Curiosity's new home, taken using the rover's Navigation camera. Beyond the pebbly ground is the mountainous rim of Gale Crater... how about that for a view.
Curiosity's new home (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)