Remnants Of Curiosity's Descent To Mars
August 8, 2012

Photo Shows Remnants Of Curiosity’s Landing Partners

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

What could one day be considered artifacts if archaeologists are to ever start digging around on Mars, a new high resolution photo shows the remnants of Curiosity's landing components.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured an image using its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera of the equipment that helped get Mars' newest citizen down to the ground.

During Curiosity's "seven minutes of terror," it shed a heat shield, parachute, back shell, and sky crane during its descent towards the Martian surface.

The image shows both Curiosity, and the tools that helped the rover get down to the ground in one picture.

"This latest image is another demonstration of the invaluable assistance the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter team, and its sister team with the Mars Odyssey orbiter, have provided the Curiosity rover during our early days on the Red Planet," Mike Watkins, mission manager for the Mars Science Laboratory mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a press release.

The Curiosity rover takes center stage in the photo, while the heat shield lies approximately 4,900 feet away, NASA said. This component helped protect the rover from the 3,800-degree-Fahrenheit heat when descending through the atmosphere.

In the lower left of the image, you can see the parachute and back shell, which the rover rode in for 352 million miles since launching from Earth back in 2011. These important pieces to the landing puzzle lay about 2,020 feet away.

The image also shows the innovative Sky Crane, which was a revolutionary idea and the last piece that played a role in the landing. This tool, which now lays about 2,100 feet from Curiosity, shot off its rockets to help lower the rover down towards the surface of Mars safely, and accurately.

"The image not only satisfies our curiosity, it can provide important information on how these vital components performed during entry, descent and landing, and exactly locate the rover's touchdown site within Gale Crater."

Sarah Milkovich, HiRISE investigation scientist at JPL, said this is the first image of many that HiRISE will be taking of Curiosity on the surface of Mars.

She said the image was taken on Monday at about 10:30 p.m. Pacific, which was about 24 hours after the rover landed on Mars.

The rover is still setting itself up for its mission, going through a season of tests, but is still snapping photos with its 17 cameras and uploading them to NASA. The most recent Curiosity image was taken from its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). This is a focusable color camera located on the tool-bearing turret at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm.

Researchers will be using MAHLI to magnify and get close-up views of rocks and soils. The camera will also provide landscape views of the Martian surface as well.

"It is great to have our first MAHLI image under our belt," Ken Edgett, principal investigator for MAHLI from Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, said in a press release. "We tested the focus mechanism and imager and the whole system is looking good. We are looking forward to getting up close and personal with Mars."