NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover makes history, sends back photos

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  • In this photo released by NASA's JPL, this is one of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT ). It was taken with a "fisheye" wide-angle lens on the left "eye" of a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance cameras on the left-rear side of the rover. The image is one-half of full resolution. The clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel. On the top left, part of the rover's power supply is visible. Some dust appears on the lens even with the dust cover off. The cameras are looking directly into the sun, so the top of the image is saturated.  The lines across the top are an artifact called "blooming" that occurs in the camera's detector because of the saturation. As planned, the rover's early engineering images are lower resolution. Larger color images from other cameras are expected later in the week when the rover's mast, carrying high-resolution cameras, is deployed. In this photo released by NASA's JPL, this is one of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT ). It was taken with a "fisheye" wide-angle lens on the left "eye" of a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance cameras on the left-rear side of the rover. The image is one-half of full resolution. The clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel. On the top left, part of the rover's power supply is visible. Some dust appears on the lens even with the dust cover off. The cameras are looking directly into the sun, so the top of the image is saturated. The lines across the top are an artifact called "blooming" that occurs in the camera's detector because of the saturation. As planned, the rover's early engineering images are lower resolution. Larger color images from other cameras are expected later in the week when the rover's mast, carrying high-resolution cameras, is deployed. Photo by: AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • FILE - In this 2011 file artist's rendering provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech, a "sky crane" lowers the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover onto the surface of Mars. After traveling 8 1/2 months and 352 million miles, Curiosity will attempt a landing on Mars the night of Aug. 5, 2012. FILE - In this 2011 file artist's rendering provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech, a "sky crane" lowers the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover onto the surface of Mars. After traveling 8 1/2 months and 352 million miles, Curiosity will attempt a landing on Mars the night of Aug. 5, 2012. Photo by: AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • FILE - In this 2011 artist's rendering provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover examines a rock on Mars. After traveling 8 1/2 months and 352 million miles, Curiosity will attempt a landing on Mars the night of Aug. 5, 2012. FILE - In this 2011 artist's rendering provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover examines a rock on Mars. After traveling 8 1/2 months and 352 million miles, Curiosity will attempt a landing on Mars the night of Aug. 5, 2012. Photo by: AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • This artists rendering provided by NASA shows the Mars Rover, Curiosity. After traveling 8 1/2 months and 352 million miles, Curiosity will attempt a landing on Mars the night of Aug. 5, 2012. This artists rendering provided by NASA shows the Mars Rover, Curiosity. After traveling 8 1/2 months and 352 million miles, Curiosity will attempt a landing on Mars the night of Aug. 5, 2012. Photo by: AP Photo/NASA
  • NASA Administrator Charles Bolden closes his eyes as the rover begins its decent to the surface of mars, inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. The Curiosity robot is equipped with a nuclear-powered lab capable of vaporizing rocks and ingesting soil, measuring habitability, and potentially paving the way for human exploration. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden closes his eyes as the rover begins its decent to the surface of mars, inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. The Curiosity robot is equipped with a nuclear-powered lab capable of vaporizing rocks and ingesting soil, measuring habitability, and potentially paving the way for human exploration. Photo by: AP Photo/Brian van der Brug
  • Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity team member, Miguel San Martin, Chief Engineer, Guidance, Navigation, and Control at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, left, celebrates with Adam Steltzner, MSL entry, descent and landing (EDL) of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), right, after the successful landing of Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity team member, Miguel San Martin, Chief Engineer, Guidance, Navigation, and Control at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, left, celebrates with Adam Steltzner, MSL entry, descent and landing (EDL) of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), right, after the successful landing of Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. Photo by: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
  • In a photo provided by NASA, Christopher J. Scolese, Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, left, congratulates, MSL Entry, Descent and Landing Engineer Adam Steltzner as they look at the first images of Mars to come from the Curiosity rover shortly after it landed on Mars, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In a photo provided by NASA, Christopher J. Scolese, Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, left, congratulates, MSL Entry, Descent and Landing Engineer Adam Steltzner as they look at the first images of Mars to come from the Curiosity rover shortly after it landed on Mars, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. Photo by: AP Photo/Bill Ingalls
  • In a photo provided by NASA,  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden congratulates NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate John M. Grunsfeld after the Mars Science laboratory rover Curiosity successfully landed on Mars, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In a photo provided by NASA, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden congratulates NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate John M. Grunsfeld after the Mars Science laboratory rover Curiosity successfully landed on Mars, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. Photo by: AP Photo/Bill Ingalls
  • Former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, center, actress Nichelle Nichols the original O'Hura Star Trek character, and musician Will.i.am, right, of The Black Eyed Peas, pose with bloggers at NASA Social media event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on August 12, 2012, hours before the Mars rover Curiosity is due to land on the surface of Mars. The most high-tech rover NASA has ever designed was speeding toward Mars on Sunday to attempt an acrobatic landing on the planet's surface. The Curiosity rover was poised to hit the top of the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph. Second from left blogger and film maker Susan Bell. Former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, center, actress Nichelle Nichols the original O'Hura Star Trek character, and musician Will.i.am, right, of The Black Eyed Peas, pose with bloggers at NASA Social media event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on August 12, 2012, hours before the Mars rover Curiosity is due to land on the surface of Mars. The most high-tech rover NASA has ever designed was speeding toward Mars on Sunday to attempt an acrobatic landing on the planet's surface. The Curiosity rover was poised to hit the top of the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph. Second from left blogger and film maker Susan Bell. Photo by: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
  • A spectator watches a live stream of the Mars Curiosity landing while listening to an audio broadcast on her phone among the hundreds of other on-lookers in Times Square, August 6, 2012, in New York. After traveling 8 1/2 months and 352 million miles, Curiosity landed on Mars Sunday night. A spectator watches a live stream of the Mars Curiosity landing while listening to an audio broadcast on her phone among the hundreds of other on-lookers in Times Square, August 6, 2012, in New York. After traveling 8 1/2 months and 352 million miles, Curiosity landed on Mars Sunday night. Photo by: AP Photo/John Minchillo
  • Musician Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas, right, and former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, left, address bloggers at NASA Social media event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., August 12, 2012, hours before the Mars rover Curiosity is due to land on the surface of Mars. The most high-tech rover NASA has ever designed was speeding toward Mars on Sunday to attempt an acrobatic landing on the planet's surface. Musician Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas, right, and former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, left, address bloggers at NASA Social media event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., August 12, 2012, hours before the Mars rover Curiosity is due to land on the surface of Mars. The most high-tech rover NASA has ever designed was speeding toward Mars on Sunday to attempt an acrobatic landing on the planet's surface. Photo by: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

WASHINGTON, August 6th, 2012 — “Touchdown confirmed,” said NASA engineer Allen Chen. “We’re safe on Mars.” The Mars Rover, named Curiosity, touched down on the surface of the red planet at 1:32am eastern. In a show of technological force, the robotic rover blasted through the skies of Mars at 13,000 mph, conducted a series of never before tried aerobatic maneuvers and touched down in a Hollywood-like finish.

“We’re on Mars again,” said NASA chief Charles Bolden. “It’s just absolutely incredible. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

This is NASA’s seventh landing on Mars. The latest Martian landing added a much-needed boost to NASA, which has been under heavy debate whether there is funding for another Mars landing this decade. Curiosity, with a price tag of $2.5 billion, is the most expensive mission to date for which scientists hope will pay off in the form of discoveries that can shape the Martian planet’s history and determine if life ever existed.

Moments after landing, the first black-and-white pictures were received at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Over the next several days, more detailed color photos will be transmitted back to earth, highlighting the exact landing location and surrounding terrain.

After several weeks of health checkups, the six-wheel rover will take its first drive. Over the next two years, Curiosity will drive over to a mountain rising from the crater floor, drill and sample rocks, and scoop up rust-tinted soil, in an effort to see if the region ever had the right environment for microscopic organisms to thrive.

The landing site near Mars’ equator was picked because there are signs of past water everywhere, meeting one of the requirements for life as we know it. Inside Gale Crater is a 3-mile-high mountain, and images from space show the base appears rich in minerals that formed in the presence of water.

With a suite of gadgets on board, the one-ton Curiosity will make use of its landing site via photos, video, smell, taste, drill and analyze.

A laser onboard can drill into rocks up to 25 feet away and identify chemical elements inside. An onboard chemistry lab allows Curiosity to “sniff” for the chemical building blocks of life while a radiation sensor measures levels from the Martian surface.

A 7-foot-long robotic arm equipped with a power drill can bore into rocks and soil. A sophisticated weather station will be used to track temperature, pressure and seasonal changes, allowing NASA to begin the groundwork for planning future manned landings.


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Todd Stowell

Todd Stowell is a freelance writer, photographer, and the User Experience Developer for The Washington Times and Communities at Washington Times. He is also the web developer for the Space Tweep Society, an online property bringing together members of NASA’s Tweetup events to an open forum to share space related topics and stories.

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