NASA released today the first color images and the 2 1/2 video of the successful landing of its Curiosity Rover on Mars. The engineers and scientists behind the mission can’t help but scream with excitement while monitoring the descent of the space craft to the atmosphere of the red planet, and eventually detaching itself from its protective shield and landing on the ground.
The report from the Associated Press quoted the statement of Mike Watkins, manager of the Curiosity mission, regarding the historic descent of the spacecraft on Mars expressing the team’s joy in ending of one phase of the mission, and the beginning of another part. Watkins said, the images transmitted by the spacecraft show “a new Mars we have never seen before, so every one of those pictures is the most beautiful picture I have ever seen.”
After eight months and 352 million miles of journey, the scientists behind the Curiosity Rover mission will be able to begin discovering clues about the past environmental changes in Mars. The spacecraft will dig into the surface of Mars to find out if there are molecular building blocks of life present on the planet, including carbon. Scientists attached tiny cameras in front of the wheels of the rover to detect hazards.
Curiosity rover is a nuclear-powered roving laboratory, as big as a car, weighs a ton and worth $2.5 billion. The scientists applied extra-ordinary efforts in deploying the equipment to the planet’s atmosphere, due to its weight and Mars thin atmosphere, which provided only a small amount of friction to slow down Curiosity Rover from the speed of 13,000 mph to zero. NASA described the descent of the spacecraft as “seven minutes of terror.” Curiosity Rover landed exactly on its target location, which was called Mount Sharp on Sunday.
John Grotzinger, chief mission scientist from the California Institute of Technology said that one of the photos captured by the close-to-the-ground hazard cameras attached to the rover, showed a “silhouette of Mount Sharp in the setting sun.”
NASA engineers brainstormed different possibilities, and consulted Apollo-era engineers and pilots of heavy-lift helicopters in order to master the technique in landing heavy machinery, after losing back-to-back Mars spacecrafts in 1999.
According to NASA, Curiosity Rover is the heaviest equipment landed on Mars. The successful landing of the rover on the planet provided confidence to the agency, that it would be able to unload necessary equipment for astronauts who will journey to the red planet in the future.
NASA canceled its joint U.S.-European missions to Mars that was scheduled for 2016 and 2018, due to budget limitations.