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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