August 5, 2012

Houston: Curiosity Has Landed

[ Watch the Video: Curiosity Lands On Mars ]

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

NASA continued to add to its running story about man´s exploration of Mars Sunday night, as its latest rover Curiosity successfully landed on the Red Planet.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) entered the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph on Sunday night, delivering the rover to its new home planet.

Here at NASA´s Jet Propulsion Lab, everyone let out a sigh of relief and cheered as the rover completed its 352 million mile journey to Mars, softly landing onto the surface unharmed.

During the descent through the atmosphere about 80 miles above the surface, the heat shield did most of the work, slowing down the rover from 13,200 mph to 1,000 mph.

At about 255 seconds after entry, MSL unleashed its parachute after entering into the Martian atmosphere and surviving the 3,800 degree Fahrenheit heat. The parachute popped out while the craft was still hurtling 900 mph towards the surface of Mars, which is the top speed of an F18 fighter jet.

After a couple of more miles, MSL jettisoned off its heat shield and exposed Curiosity for a view of its new home for the first time. At this moment, the spacecraft´s radar began working, helping to give engineers a measurement at how far Curiosity is from the ground.

The Backshell Separation, which had the parachute attached to it, left the rover to free fall for a few seconds at 180 miles per hour, until engineers fired up eight retrorockets to help guide the rover towards the ground similar to a jetpack.

The retrorockets used during the landing controlled the descent, enabling NASA´s new “Sky Crane” maneuver to be tried out. While using the method, the rover was lowered down towards its landing target via the jet pack through cables, which were 25 feet long.

Curiosity´s wheels and suspension system popped into place like a charm, and the Sky Crane was able to safely plop Mars newest citizen onto the ground.

There was about a 13 minute delay between what was happening on Mars, and when NASA was able to find out about it.

Now, Curiosity sits at Gale Crater on Mars with the hope of being able to report back to scientists on Earth whether the planet has ever had conditions that were favorable to host life.

After landing, Curiosity´s computers switched from entry, descent and landing mode, to surface mode in order to start day one of its newly found life on Mars.

NASA was able to receive the first images from its new rover just minutes after it landed on the surface. The space agency wasn't sure if it was going to be able to obtain any data from the rover, because Mars horizon was closing down, shutting off Curiosity's eye of communication with Earth.

The images released by NASA are just thumbnails right now, but soon enough Curiosity will be releasing beautiful high-resolution photos of the Red Planet's surface.

At the press conference after the launch, Charles Bolden said this was an amazing achievement made by scientists around the world and NASA. He said the odds of success of landing a rover on Mars are about 40 percent, according to Mars spacecraft track record.

He said tonight, there are at least 4 countries that are on Mars, thanks to the United States engineering.

NASA said that now, due to American engineering, there is an automobile-sized rover sitting on another planet.

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