Curiosity Lands Safely on Mars!

The world watched anxiously in anticipation of the Curiosity landing on Mars this morning, staying up long past their bed times last night, hopeful, yet cautious that we could actually pull of the most difficult landing attempt in the history of space travel.

Curiosity represents a 2.5 Billion Dollar effort to put a new roving laboratory on Mars, with the best technology that money can buy, in order to learn more about our closest planetary neighbor and uncover it's secrets; starting with exploration of a crater that scientists think may have evidence of the building blocks needed to have once supported life.

Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 26 (2012), Curiosity (which is a rover designed to be roving laboratory with an incredibly sophisticated array of sensors, cameras and much more) had to travel over 352 Million Miles before finally entering the Atmosphere of Mars this morning; traveling at over 17 times the speed of sound.

Because Curiosity is much larger and heavier than any other probe in history, getting it to the surface of Mars safely was the most ambitious project ever attempted in the history of interplanetary exploration, and because of the communications delay caused by the long distance from Mars (over 14 minutes is needed at the speed of light to receive signals from Mars), NASA knew it would have no ability to control its descent from Earth or give it any instructions to correct problems that could occur. So, the programming for the tricky landing sequence needed to be perfect, with no room for error. Many people (including some of the Scientists and Engineers that helped design it), were not sure that it could be done.

NASA often referred to this landing as 7 Minutes of Terror before it actually took place, since 7 minutes is the time needed to enter the Mars' Atmosphere, deploy a parachute to slow its descent, jettison the heat shield so that navigation radar could help guide it to its selected landing spot, deploy a jet powered backpack known as the "sky crane" and lower it safely to the ground while using complex maneuvering to rocket away after cutting the final cords to avoid colliding with it; all own its own, with no guidance from NASA after the entry in the thin Martian atmosphere until safely on the ground.

Mars-landing-2012-1.jpgAs Mission Controllers were joined by scientists, engineers and dignitaries last night after the descent started, nobody could do anything but wait to find out if man had achieved something remarkable. Then, at 1:31AM EDT this morning, the first signals came back from Curiosity that it had landed safely on Mars, with everyone watching its progress erupting in cheers and jubilation.

Mars-landing-2012-2.jpgMany watching felt an array of emotion, with smiles, tears of joy and an amazing feeling of pride, finally realizing that all of the hard work had paid off and mankind had accomplished what many thought to be impossible; landing a car size roving laboratory on Mars safely.

This Mars rover is equipped with sophisticated instruments capable of analyzing samples of soil, rocks and atmosphere and beaming results back to Earth; and it even has a laser that can target rocks from up to 23 feet away, then analyze the spectral image produced for chemical composition. But, the amazing array of cameras on board is what we're waiting to see images from; not just the low resolution images from the navigation cameras sent by Curiosity upon landing like the below image of its shadow.

Mars-landing-2012-3.jpgOver the next few days, diagnostics and mast deployment will be completed, and then we'll see higher resolution photos being beamed back from Mars, thanks to the rover's 17 on board cameras.

Mars-landing-2012-4.jpgThe mast alone features seven cameras: the Remote Micro Imager that's part of the Chemistry and Camera suite; four black-and-white Navigation Cameras (two on the left and two on the right) and two color Mast Cameras (Mastcams). The left Mastcam has a 34-millimeter lens and the right Mastcam has a 100-millimeter lens.

There is also a camera on the end of a robotic arm that is stowed known as the Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). In addition, there are two pairs of black-and-white Hazard Avoidance Cameras in the front, another two pair mounted to the rear of the rover, (dashed arrows in the graphic) and the color Mars Descent Imager (MARDI).

We live in amazing times, and we at Steve's can't help but to be caught up in the jubilation over what mankind has accomplished with the safe landing of Curiosity on Mars, as this is an awesome feat that leaves us thinking "Wow".

The best is yet to come, as more systems and cameras on board are deployed and become functional. So, stay tuned, and Steve's will update you later this week with another article that contains more information about the cameras used by Curiosity,  as well as higher resolution color photos, once they are made available from the Curiosity's sophisticated Mast Cameras.