In the aftermath of the high-precision landing, space-exploration advocates embraced Curiosity as proof of American ambition and prowess.
“If anybody has been harboring doubts about the status of U.S. leadership in space, well, there’s a one-ton, automobile-size piece of American ingenuity, and it’s sitting on the surface of Mars right now,” presidential science adviser John P. Holdren said at a news conference after the landing.
Curiosity, called “the mission of the decade” by NASA officials, will search for the building blocks of extraterrestrial life and investigate how Mars turned from a wet and warm planet into a dry and cold one. The sophisticated instruments used on the mission could hasten the day when humans fly to Mars.
And the two-year mission could draw interest for years, inspiring young people to go into science the way the Apollo moon program did in the 1960s and 1970s, officials said.
“Experiencing that remarkably complex but perfect landing, and then watching the rover in the months ahead, can’t help but excite young people,” said Jean-Lou Chameau, president of the California Institute of Technology, which operates NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL is managing the mission.
President Obama hailed the landing as “an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.”
There have been seven successful landings on Mars, all by NASA, but Curiosity is by far the most technically sophisticated — and expensive. Its $2.5 billion price tag has drawn some criticism.
But after nailing the most difficult planetary landing ever, NASA and Obama administration officials appear to believe the dynamic has changed. After the landing, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told a cheering crowd that the mission as a whole cost the equivalent of a single movie ticket for everyone in the United States. “And this is a movie I think people want to see,” he said.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) called the first images “breathtaking.”
“The soft landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars is a testament to NASA’s engineering superiority,” she said. “More importantly, it serves as the most recent and best example of why it is so important for us to continue to invest in deep-space exploration. By committing to expand the horizons of exploration, we guarantee new discoveries and new applications from all we learn.”