That up there is the first image transmitted from NASA’s Curiosity Rover, the $2.5 billion project sent to the Red Planet to search for signs that life existed in what is now a cold, dry atmosphere. At exactly 1:32 AM EST on Monday, Curiosity touched down on the surface of Mars. The one-ton, SUV-sized rover is the largest piece of equipment sent to another planet, and thus could not be set down on the surface of Mars in the traditional manner. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was forced to devise an untested, automated system that gently dropped the rover at its target location using a rocket-powered, crane-like “backpack” and the largest supersonic parachute ever manufactured. Check out an explanation of the system in the below video. Also explained in the video is that, due to the delay in receiving signals from the rover, Curiosity was actually on the surface of Mars at 1:25 AM EST, but we on Earth only learned of its well-being 7 minutes later, the time it took Curiosity to reach the surface upon entering the atmosphere:
The complex, meticulously-planned landing procedure, comprising zero margin of error, went off without a hitch. The rover will now begin prepping and deploying its equipment and systems. We should get the first high-resolution images by the end of the week, and, though no promises are being made, the nuclear-powered Curiosity should start its fact-finding mission by the beginning of September, working for an estimated two years.
[Image Source: NASA]