Breaking News: NASA’s Curiosity Is On Mars
NASA's Curiosity rover has landed on the planet Mars at 10:14:39 PM PDT 5 August 2012. Early images sent back by the spacecraft show at least one wheel of the vehicle, giving the initial impression that the landing was a safe and successful touchdown.
According to NASA, Curiosity's main assignment is to investigate whether its study area
ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial
life. To do that, it packs a science payload weighing 15 times as
much as the science instruments on previous Mars rovers. The landing
target, an area about 12 miles by 4 miles (20 kilometers by 7
kilometers), sits in a safely flat area between less-safe slopes of
the rim of Gale Crater and the crater's central peak, informally
called Mount Sharp. The target was plotted to be within driving
distance of layers on Mount Sharp, where minerals that formed in
water have been seen from orbit.
NASA has issued a statement confirming the safe landing of Curiosity. "The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity
succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on
Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway
maneuver of the rocket backpack."
NASA said Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. PDT 5 August 2012 (1:32 a.m. EDT 6 August 2012) near
the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter
inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover
will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable
for microbial life.
Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky
ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in
the next several days as the mission blends observations of the
landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and
check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.
"Our Curiosity is talking to us from the surface of Mars," said MSL
Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "The landing takes us past the most
hazardous moments for this project, and begins a new and exciting
mission to pursue its scientific objectives."
Confirmation of Curiosity's successful landing came in communications
relayed by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter and received by the Canberra,
Australia, antenna station of NASA's Deep Space Network.
Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as
large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and
Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars,
such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition
of rocks from a distance. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the
end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock
interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical
laboratory instruments inside the rover.
To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five
times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site
places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater's
interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and
sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.