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NASA’s newest and most developed land rover, Curiosity, successfully touched down on Mars earlier today. The first image, sent seven minutes after touchdown, featured some dust and the Mars floor.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This was quickly followed by a second picture its own shadow. These are the first of many photographs and samples expected from the new rover. The mission, the latest in the line from the Mars Science Laboratory (which created Sojourner in 1997, Spirit in 2004, and Opportunity in 2004), is expected to last about two years.
The landing in itself was a small miracle, involving a supersonic parachute, a shedded heat shield, and a rocket-powered “sky crane,” but was ultimately flawless. The entire SUV-sized land rover, including all of its equipment, will be checked over by the lab scientists before beginning its journey.
The cost of the project was about $2.5 billion, $900 million over the original estimate. The project also ran 2 years late, after 14 years of planning. NASA is not truly worried about the cost. John Grotzinger, one of the project scientists, said “This whole enterprise comes out to be the cost of a movie. And that’s a movie I want to see.”
Curiosity was launched in November of last year, equipped with the technology to analyze rocks and soil samples, and take pictures, in the hope of confirming or denying whether Mars could support life forms at some point. The intention is to find the organic molecules that are necessary to create life, such as carbon that could contain fossilized life forms.
The rover will also check the air for signs of current existing life, like methane gas. The first stop for Curiosity is Gale Crater, which was once possibly a lake, and eventually, about a year from now, Mount Sharp in the center of the crater. The layers of rock in the mountain will give a lot of information about the planet’s history.
But scientists insist even this cannot determine if life existed on Mars, only that it is possible.
NASA is extremely proud of their success after previous failures, and are anxious to see what Curiosity will report. NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, “It’s just absolutely incredible, and it’s a huge day for the American people. Everybody in the morning should be sticking their chest out and saying, ‘That’s my rover on Mars,’ because it belongs to everyone.”
“The successful landing of Curiosity — the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet — marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future,” President Barack Obama commented.
US citizens eagerly await more information on Curiosity’s journey, marking the day that the exploration into our solar system was brought to a whole new level.