Curiosity, the most advanced science experiment ever sent to the red planet has successfully touched down on Mars, steering itself through the so-called “seven minutes of terror” to gently hit the ground.
“Touchdown confirmed,” said engineer Allen Chen. “We’re safe on Mars.”
The landing set off an uproar of applause through the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Sunday night as Curiosity reported back after touchdown. at 10:30 p.m. PDT. The rover sent the first black-and-white photos of its initial contact with Mars quickly after landing.
President Barack Obama, in a tweet, congratulated the NASA team: “congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality.”
Curiosity is a $2.5 billion gamble, which NASA needs to pay off. The hope with this mission is that the rover and its extremely advanced set of tools will return the best data ever gathered on our planetary neighbor.
The rover will hopefully spent at least the next two years sending back data. It will drive to a mountain, drill into rocks, and gather soil to see if Mars ever had what it takes for life to thrive. Such a discovery would rank up there with the biggest scientific discoveries in human history.
This was the first time NASA attempted a controlled “smooth” landing on Mars. The last two rovers bounced to the surface with airbags all around them. That was not possible with the ton-heavy Curiosity.
The rover is nuclear-powered and includes a chemistry lab, cameras, instruments, weather gauges, a robotic arm, and a drill.
Curiosity joins the rover Opportunity, a long ways away but the next nearest operational Earth object. Opportunity is amazing in its own right, as it is still operational after eight years on the frigid, unforgiving planet.