Posted On Tuesday, August 07, 2012 at 08:49:29 AM
The one-ton rover is the largest ever sent to Mars, and its high-speed landing was the most daring to date, using a never before tested rocket-powered sky crane to lower the six-wheeled vehicle gently to the surface of Mars. “Touchdown confirmed,” said a member of mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the room erupted in cheers.
“We are wheels down on Mars. Oh, my God.” A dusty image of the rover’s wheel on the surface, taken from a rear camera on the vehicle, confirmed the arrival of the car-sized rover and its sophisticated toolkit designed to hunt for signs that life once existed there.
Top: Three Generations of Rovers are pictured in the Mars Test Yard. The first Mars rover, Sojourner (front left), which landed on Mars in 1997. A copy of Spirit and Opportunity (left top), which landed in 2004 and (right) a copy of the latest Mars rover Curiosity Bottom: NASA staff rejoice after Curiosity lands safely
A second image arrived within seconds, showing the shadow of the rover on Mars. The official landing time was 0532 GMT. The nuclear-powered rover is now set for a two-year mission to explore Mars, including a long climb up a mountain to analyse sediment layers.
The landing was announced after a tense, seven-minute process known as entry, descent and landing. President Barack Obama described the feat as a singular source of American pride.
“The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving lab 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,” he said. However, success was anything but certain.
NASA’s more recent rover dropoffs involved smaller craft that were cushioned with airbags. In the final moments, the MSL spacecraft accelerated with the pull of gravity as it neared Mars’ atmosphere, making a fiery entry at a speed of 21,240 kilometres per hour and then slowing down with the help of a parachute.
After that, an elaborate sky crane powered by rocket blasters kicked in, and the rover was lowered down by nylon tethers, apparently landing upright on all six wheels.
Adam Steltzner, leader of the entry, descent and landing (EDL) team, who has previously admitted the landing bid appeared “crazy,” said that in the end, it “looked extremely clean.”
Scientists do not expect Curiosity to find aliens. Rather they hope to use it to analyse soil and rocks for signs that the blocks of life are present and may have supported life in the past.
The project also aims to study the Martian environment to prepare for a possible human mission there in the coming years. It has already been collecting data on radiation during its eight and a half month journey following launch in November 2011.
“The two questions that humans have always asked about ourselves is, ‘Where do we come from?’ and ‘Are we alone?’“ said Randii Wessen, mission system engineer. “Was Mars ever habitable? Were the conditions ever agreeable with life as we know it?” Wessen added.
Previous attempts by global space agencies since 1960 have resulted in a near 40 per cent success rate in sending landers, orbiters or other spacecraft for flybys to Mars. NASA has the best record, with four prior mission successes to Mars: Viking 1 and 2 (1976), Pathfinder (1997), rovers Spirit and Opportunity (2004) and Phoenix (2008).
What's onboard the rover
Fuel: The rover is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) that uses the 4.8Kgs of Plutonium-238.
Mobility: The maximum speed is estimated to be 300feet per hour. It is expected to traverse 19Kms during its two-year mission. The rover is equipped with 6 large wheels. Each wheel has a pattern to maintain traction and the pattern left behind by the wheels will also be used to track how much the rover has travelled.
Cameras: Curiosity has 17 cameras overall equipped with 1600X1200 resolution CCDs.
Communication: Curiosity has two means of communication – an X Band transmitter and receiver that can communicate directly with Earth and a Ultra-High frequency Electra-lite radio for communicating with the Mars orbiters.
Sample analysis at mars (SAM): The SAM instrument suite will analyse organics and gases from both atmospheric and solid samples.
Dyamic albedo of netrons (DAN): A device for measuring hydrogen or ice and water on the Martian surface.