The 1-ton Curiosity Mars rover has landed safely on Mars, and sent back this first image to signal it’s arrival. NASA’s biggest, most ambitious interplanetary mission is now on the ground and running.
Curiosity survived a harrowing and unprecedented journey to the Red Planet’s surface. After hurtling into the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph late Sunday (21,000 kph), Curiosity’s spacecraft deployed an enormous supersonic parachute to slow down to 200 mph (320 kph) or so. The vehicle then fired rockets to slow its descent further, to less than 2 mph (3.2 kph).
Then the craziness began.
A rocket-powered sky crane lowered Curiosity to the Martian surface on cables, then flew off and crash-landed intentionally a safe distance away after the rover’s six wheels hit the red dirt. The ambitious maneuver capped a landing sequence that NASA officials have dubbed “seven minutes of terror.”
In all, an eight-month voyage across 352 million miles, landing the equivalent of a car on an alien planet at a distance so great that we didn’t even know it was successful until 14 minutes after it happened — because that’s how long it takes signals to reach us! This is an amazing achievement of science and technology.