PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's most advanced Mars rover Curiosity has landed on the Red Planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars Sunday to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation.
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.
"Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars -- or if the planet can sustain life in the future," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030's, and today's landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal."
Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 a.m. EDT Aug. 6) 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.
"The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph," said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld. "My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission's team."
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 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.
The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
| This graphic shows the locations of the cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover. The rover's mast features seven cameras: the Remote Micro Imager, part of the Chemistry and Camera suite; four black-and-white Navigation Cameras (two on the left and two on the right) and two color Mast Cameras (Mastcams). The left Mastcam has a 34-millimeter lens and the right Mastcam has a 100-millimeter lens.
There is one camera on the end of a robotic arm that is stowed in this graphic; it is called the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).
There are nine cameras hard-mounted to the rover: two pairs of black-and-white Hazard Avoidance Cameras in the front, another two pair mounted to the rear of the rover, (dashed arrows in the graphic) and the color Mars Descent Imager (MARDI).
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Welcome To Gail Crater! This is one of the first clear shots Curiosity took after landing on Mars. It was taken by a low resolution engineerting camera that was working at 50% of its normal resolution - and yes the lens cap was off by time this shot was taken. Small pebbles and gravel strewen in the foreground betray the watery nature of this site which is believed to be something geoligists call an aluvial fan - sediments washed out of the surounding hills by either a river or a flood. The craters rim can be seen in the upper right. This view is looking behind the rover. More photos may be returned later today but we will have to wait several days for the rover to deploy its camera mast and return the big beautyful color images we are all waiting for. Photo Credit: NASA JPL