NASA Mars Curiosity rover lands, ushers in new era for space program

August 7, 2012

The Mars rover Curiosity has successfully landed on the surface of the Red Planet. the mission concluded in the early hours of Monday morning, with touchdown occurring at 1:32 a.m. ET.

The Post’s Marc Kaufman reports from Pasadena, Calif:

NASA’s rover Curiosity touched down deep in a Martian crater early Monday after a picture-perfect descent and landing, beginning what promises to be one of the most ambitious planetary missions in history.

Jubilant NASA engineers and scientists let out a loud and prolonged whoop when the data came in indicating that the one-ton rover had touched down. It remains unknown exactly what shape the $2.5 billion rover is in, but the fact that it survived its “seven minutes of terror” descent was cheered like the grandest Olympic triumph.

In a statement Monday morning, President Obama called the landing “marks an unprecedented feat of technology that wills tand as a point of national pride far into the future.”

NASA held a press conference at noon ET on Monday from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. where they announced the transmission of a new image from the HiRise camera. The images show Curiosity as it was landing on the surface of Mars — parachutes extended.

The MSL team will be working on Mars time for the next 90 Martian days or Sols. “We have to learn how to use this very complicated machine that we've built,” said mission manager Mark Watkins. “So, we want to run through our paces in an efficient way.”

Working on Mars time gives the team 16 hours to plan an uplink while the rover is sleeping on Mars. The team — roughly 400 scientists on the mission and another 300 or more engineers — is still learning how to interact and become more efficient. “This is really kind of an immersion training,” continued Watkins. The international team will eventually spread out to their respective institutions, but for the next 90 Sols, they will be working together to develop an efficient workflow.

According to Watkins, the team anticipates getting a front Hazcam image with the same resolution as the rear in a couple of hours along with thumbnails from the descent imager. In the next couple of days the first black and white panoramas and a single color frame photo are expected, according to Watkins.

The Washington Post’s Emi Kolawole reports:

“This image was taken six minutes after MSL entered the atmosphere,” said Sarah Milkovich as a black-and-white image of the rover landing on the surface of Mars was shown to gathered crowds. The image, taken by HiRise (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) presents enough detail to show the rover landing on the surface of Mars with parachutes deployed.

HiRise, said Milkovich has taken over a hundred photos of the crater in preparation for Curiosity’s landing, but, she continued, “I really think this is the coolest one.”

Read more about Curiosity’s landing on Mars

‘We’re on the surface of Mars’

Video: Mars rover Curiosity successfully lands

Graphic: The Curiosity mission to Mars

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