WASHINGTON – The Curiosity rover has landed in the lowlands of Mars.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft carrying the 1-ton rover reached the surface at Gale Crater at about 1:32 a.m. eastern time on Monday (Aug. 6).
Shortly before Curiosity’s entry, descent and landing, Adam Steltzner, head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars landing team, told mission controllers: “She’s there because you guys got her there.”
One of Curiosity's six wheels are shown in an early photo from the surface. The rim of Gale Crater is visible in the upper right. (Source: JPL)
“We have wheels down on Mars,” JPL mission control confirmed as the first photos came in from Gale Crater.
Stressing the importance of teamwork in getting Curiosity to Gale
Crater, Steltzner said after the landing, "I am terribly humbled by this
experience." Referring to the engineers who designed the risky sky
crane technique, he added, "Thank you to the blue shirts."
"It doesn't get any better than this," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in the moments after the successful landing.
One of the first images sent by the Curiosity rover from Gale Crater on Mars. Mission managers believe the silhouette of Mt. Smart can be seen at the top of the image . (Source: JPL)
Mission controllers were pacing nervously in the moments before touchdown as the MSL spacecraft maneuvered toward the surface using a sky crane landing technique for the first time.
NASA said 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, including a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance.
Curiosity will explore Gale Crater and the sides of its peak, Mt. Sharp, for signs that the region ever harbored conditions favorable for microbial life.
NASA said 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.
This image was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter during Curiosity's descent. (Source: JPL)
Steltzner said during a press conference that the sky crane landing looked, "very clean, very nominal."
John Grotzinger, the MSL project scientist overseeing Curiosity's surface activities, said commissioning activities aboard Curiosity will take several weeks as engineers check out its systems. Mission managers will begin using Curiosity's scientific instruments over the next few months before the rover starts making its way toward Mt. Sharp, the distinctive peak of Gale Crater.
Mission manager Michael Watkins said Curiosity is now in a "service nominal mode," adding that the initial surface activities include deploying a high-gain communications antenna and Curiosity's remote sensing mast. The rover landed in a table-top flat area of the crater facing east southeast.
Managers stressed they will take their time checking out Curiosity's systems before exploration begins. "We're in no hurry," added Pete Theisinger, the Mars Science Laboratory project manager. "We have a priceless national asset" on Mars.
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