Curiosity Rover Lands Safely on Surface of Mars

BY Travis Daub and Jenny Marder  August 5, 2012 at 4:17 PM EDT

After a 354 million-mile journey, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory and its rover Curiosity succeeded in a risky, sophisticated landing on the surface of Mars, and began beaming back photos of its own shadow against the soil of its landing site, the Gale Crater.

The spacecraft will spend the next two years searching for microbial life.

“There’s a one-ton piece of American ingenuity and it’s sitting on the surface of Mars right now,” said John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in a post-landing NASA presser.

Soon after, scientists on the Mars Science Laboratory team — they’ve been called “blue shirts” — burst into a frenzy of high-fiving that lasted several minutes, until Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, directed everyone to sit down, saying “I need to take control of this thing.”

“That rocked!,” exclaimed deputy project manager Richard Cook, when the panel turned to him. “Seriously. Was that cool? I have done this four times now and it never gets old.”

This is mission control in the moments right before, and after touchdown:


Here’s Miles O’Brien’s report from Friday on everything that had to go right for Curiosity to land safely:

Below, here’s our live feed of the landing and hours leading up to it:

1:59 am ET| Here’s a picture from Curiosity that shows the soil on Mars.

1:55 am ET|

From Miles…

And from Scientific American’s John Rennie:

1:51 am ET| Amazing picture of the rover’s shadow on the Gale Crater, called the Grand Canyon of Mars by MSL’s Cook.

1:48 am ET| Wonderful virtual landing party with terrific commentary by Universe Today.

1:47 am ET|

1:44 am ET|

The photos below are high resolution images from Mars showing dust particles and the horizon, reports @guardianscience. In other words, an image of Mars, from Mars.

1:42 am ET|

There’s this:

And this:

1:38 am ET| First images coming in.

1:36 am ET| Hugs, fist pumps, smiles and high fives at JPL.

1:35 am ET| Thumbnail images from Mars already coming in.

1:33 am ET| JPL: Touchdown confirmed!!!

1:33 am ET| JPL is going crazy with applause right now.

1:32 am ET| “We found a nice flat place. Coming in. Ready for sky crane.”

1:31 am ET| “We’ve lost contact with Earth, as expected.”

1:28 am ET| From JPL: Curiosity is heading toward target.

1:27 am ET|

1:26 am ET| MSL is now moving through the atmosphere. Mission control breaks into applause.

1:25 am ET| A lot of white knuckles in the control room right now.

1:24 am ET| We’re seconds from entry.

1:22 am ET|

1:20 am ET| “We’ve got a nice hot signal coming down from Curiosity.”

1:18 am ET| The vehicle is sending “heartbeat tones” pulses that tell us that everything’s okay.

1:13 am ET|

1:10 am ET| Mars Odyssey is in position to track MSL touchdown.

1:07 am ET| Here’s a great video on how we’ll know if Curiosity has landed safely on Mars.

1:02 am ET| People in mission control are seen chewing on peanuts for luck.

1:00 a.m. ET|

12:56 am ET| From Adam Steltzner in MSL control: “I’d just like to thank the cruise team for bringing us over 350 million miles… Good luck, see you on the other side on Mars.” Steltzner gets applause.

12:53 am ET| Here’s Miles O’Brien on the descent:

If all goes as planned, the craft will enter the wispy Martian atmosphere at more than 13,000 miles an hour. Thrusters will fire to slow it down and guide it towards the bullseye. A supersonic parachute deploys. The heat shield separates and drops away.

A landing radar will measure altitude and speed. The back shell separates, and then eight rocket engines start firing. Then a sky crane will lower the rover softly to the ground, protecting it from rocket thrust and debris.

12:51 am ET| From engineer Adam Steltzer on the upcoming landing from this Miles O’Brien report: “There’s an awful lot riding on it. And I think the team thinks that they have done everything that we can. I know I believe that we have done everything that we can. And at that point, it’s in sort of the hands of fate.”

12:47 am ET| From NASA: The rover has seven cameras: the Remote Micro Imager, 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)

12:46 am ET|

12:39 am ET|

12:32 am ET| From Miles:

Also, don’t miss this recent post from Miles on the search for life on Mars:

Here’s an excerpt:

The prospect that Mars was once a cushy berth for life has waxed and waned as our abilities to study the planet have evolved.

In the 1870′s an Italian astronomer with the great, lyrical name of Giovanni Schiaparelli first spotted the signs there was water here — he called them canali — Italian for channels. But something got lost in the translation and a Boston Brahmin and amateur astronomer named Percival Lowell took that to mean canals — implying someone did some digging up there.

A prolific writer, by the turn of the century, Lowell had most everyone convinced drought stricken little green men built the canals for irrigation. The rest is science fiction history.

12:29 am ET| Here’s a view of JPL mission control without the commentary. Thanks to @newscientist for the heads up.

12:25 am ET| We’re one hour away from NASA’s scheduled landing.

12:17 am ET| It’s a tradition at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to eat peanuts for good luck, says reporter Scott Lewis.

12:13 am ET| From the Curiosity Rover’s very own twitter feed:

*12:07 am ET| *

12:05 am ET | A few minutes ago, Curiosity passed the outer moon of Mars, Deimos, Plait said in the Universe Today Google Hangout (watch below.) “It’s in Mars’ backyard right now.

12:00 am ET |Curiosity is accelerating slowly now, but when it enters the Mars atmosphere, it will be moving 13,000 miles per hour, and then will start “savagely decelerating” at 13 times Earth’s gravity, says astronomer Philip Plait from Bad Astronomy.

11:45 ET | Check out Miles O’Brien now on this Google Hangout by Universe Today:

Also, here’s some insight from Miles on Curiosity’s entry, descent and landing:

11:30 pm ET | “Landing” parties have been scheduled worldwide, “from South Australia to Rome, from Israel to Crete; and in the United States from Atlanta to Seattle, Milwaukee to Honolulu,” the Washington Post reports.

See more from landing parties here.

11:20 pm ET | NASA’s live feed shows the Mars Science Laboratory mission support area at the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena bustling with people, computers screens and an American flag in the background.

As of Saturday, Curiosity was in good health with all systems operating as expected, NASA reported.

For additional coverage: