Early Monday morning NASA achieved an unparalleled landmark after successfully landing Curiosity, a one-ton nuclear powered rover, onto the surface of Mars.
“It’s just absolutely incredible, it doesn’t get any better than this,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “It’s a huge day for the nation, it’s a huge day for all of our partners and it’s a huge day for the American people.”
The $2.5 billion mission, led by project scientist John Grotzinger, serves to further scientific research by exploring the planet while searching for signs of life both past and present. During this two-year mission, NASA will also look for carbon compounds, which serve as the key components to life on Earth.
“I can guarantee you in the days, months and years from now you’ll be hearing an incredible science story,” said Grotzinger. “The money two-and-a-half billion dollars, we don’t put it in the rover and send it to mars, we spend it on Earth.”
This highly anticipated scientific venture was coupled with great anxiety as the rover approached what NASA dubbed as “the seven minutes of terror.” In an unprecedented move with little margin for error, the Mars Science Laboratory attempted and successfully completed the first-ever guided entry on another planet.
Shortly after passing through Mars’ atmosphere, the nuclear powered rover was lowered towards the surface of Mars by a rocket-powered crane.
Following the launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. last November, nine months and 325 million miles later, Curiosity touched down on Mars at 1:32 a.m. EDT. The confirmation came in a delay as it took 13.8 minutes for radio signals to travel the 154 million mile distance between Earth and Mars.
“It looked extremely clean,” said Adam Seltzner, the engineer in charge of Curiosity’s entry, descent and landing team. “Our navigation error was on the low side of expectation. We landed with 140 kilograms of fuel reserves out of a total of 400 kilos we carried in… It looked good, in short, good and clean.”
Curiosity, which is controlled by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is equipped with 17 cameras, along with a laser used for surveying the composition of rocks from a distance as well as instruments capable of analyzing soil and rock samples.
“Today, right now, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars,” said Bolden. “Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built is now on the surface of the red planet where it will seek to answer the age old questions of whether life ever existed there on Mars or if the planet can sustain life in the future. This is an amazing achievement.”