Doug McCuistion, NASA:
Curiosity Rover Lands in Mars Gale Crater
August 06, 2012
The U.S. space agency has landed a rover on Mars, completing the most
harrowing step in a mission to investigate possible life on the planet.
Mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory erupted in
cheers after confirming that the one-ton rover called Curiosity arrived
on Mars after an eight-month journey. The first pictures from the craft
were received back on Earth almost immediately after confirmation of the
landing Monday at about 0530 UTC.
NASA scientists called it the most challenging landing they have ever
The Curiosity rover is the centerpiece of NASA's $2.5 billion Mars
Science Laboratory mission. Curiosity traveled nearly 570 million
kilometers since it was launched in November.
image shows engineers' refinements of where NASA's Curiosity rover will
enter the atmosphere of Mars on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The background
image is a false-color image from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS)
camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft.
The yellow line
tracks the expected path on the ground directly under Curiosity as it
descends through Mars' atmosphere and touches down at Gale Crater. When
it enters the atmosphere, it is about 77.7 miles (125 kilometers) above
the surface. The red oval is the predicted landing area, known as the
"landing ellipse." The graphic also marks critical events during
descent, as well as the time they occur after atmospheric entry. The
green line shows the ground track of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter,
which will be flying almost overhead Curiosity as it lands, and will
provide communication support. Not shown in the picture are the ground
tracks of NASA’s Mars Odyssey and ESA’s Mars Express, which will also
provide support during Curiosity's entry, descent and landing.
NASA officials told reporters at a pre-landing news conference Sunday
that the spacecraft was functioning properly as it sped toward its
Adam Steltzner is the lead mechanical engineer for the rover's critical
entry, descent and landing sequence. "It's a little anxiety provoking,
but I will say that I slept better last night than I have slept in a
couple of years because she's kind of on her own now. And when I look
back at the hard work that we've done, I believe that the team has done
everything that we can to deserve success tonight. Although, as we all
know, we can never guarantee success," he said.
How Big Is
It?: At 2.8 meters long, the
Mini Cooper-sized rover is much bigger
than its rover predecessors, Spirit,
Opportunity and Sojourner.
Where and How: Curiosity will land near
the foot of a mountain taller than
Pike's Peak near the middle of Gale
Crater, which is the size of Connecticut
and Rhode Island combined.
Curiosity will use 10 science
instruments to examine rocks, soil and
Wheels: Each of Curiosity's six
wheels has an independent drive motor.
The two front and two rear wheels also
have individual steering motors. The
wheels' diameter is double the wheel
diameter on Spirit and Opportunity,
which will help Curiosity roll over
obstacles up to 75 centimeters high.
Power: A nuclear battery will
enable Curiosity to operate year-round
and farther from the equator than would
be possible with only solar power.
traveling at about 20,000 kilometers per hour when it hit the thin
Martian atmosphere. It then had only seven minutes to use a parachute,
rocket thrusters and a skycrane to reduce its speed and make a safe
Throughout that period, the craft functioned autonomously. NASA
engineers were not be able to witness the events in real time because it
takes 14 minutes for radio signals to reach Earth from Mars.
NASA's Adam Steltzner said the scientists and engineers overseeing the
project were "rationally confident, emotionally terrified" and prepared.
"As far as the amount of control that the team has during entry, descent
and landing, it's identical to the control that anybody watching at home
has. We're all along for the ride," he said.
hazard-avoidance cameras began taking pictures shortly after touchdown.
NASA received the first low-resolution, black-and-white images within
minutes of landing.
Doug McCuistion is the Director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. He
says the car-sized rover, which has 17 cameras, will soon provide color
pictures. "In the days, years, weeks to come, there is going to be an
enormous number of images, incredible images, color images, real color
this time, too, so kind of like the human eye will see, which will be
really exciting. Those will come, and there will be plenty of those," he
The main goal of the mission is to see whether Mars ever had conditions
that could have supported microbial life. The nuclear-powered Curiosity
is outfitted with instruments to investigate Martian geology, weather
and radiation levels during the next two years.
Curiosity is the seventh NASA spacecraft to land on the Red Planet.