VIDEO: NASA lands Curiosity rover on Mars surface
Late Sunday night or early Monday morning, depending on where you were in the world, NASA landed a technologically advanced rover on the surface of Mars, with a mission to determine whether life ever could have, or maybe does today, exist on the red planet.
NASA was on the minds of America Monday morning.
According to Trend data from Google, NASA was the hottest search as of Monday morning. And well it should be. Overnight Sunday into Monday morning, the American space agency landed a one-ton rover onto the surface of Mars and over the next few hours sent back the first of what are expected to be thousands, perhaps even millions of photos.
The Curiosity rover's mission, though, is more than just one of photography. In fact, the rover will seek to determine, once and for all, perhaps, whether Mars could ever have the ingredients for life, or perhaps even now, has some life on or beneath its dusty surface.
"Curiosity, the largest rover ever sent to another planet, is in place and ready to work. This robotic laboratory will seek answers to one of humanity’s oldest questions as it investigates whether conditions have favored development of microbial life on the Red Planet," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "After an astounding 154 million mile journey and a harrowing landing that demonstrated cutting-edge technology,"
According to NASA, the landing was indeed an innovative one. Instead of using a parachute to drop the vehicle gently to the Martian surface, or even airbags, as it did with the twin Opportunity and Spirit rovers, which were launched in 2004. This time, though, because of the size of the rover, NASA needed to use a different system because Curiosity weighs more than one ton.
So NASA devised something akin to a skycrane, where the rover would hurdle down toward the Martian atmosphere at speeds up to 13,000 miles per hour, according to The New York Times, then come to a standstill in the atmosphere while the rover itself was lowered to the planet surface with a winch.
It worked flawlessly and at 1:52 a.m. ET, the rover landed at what the BBC reported was about two feet per second. Immediately praise began pouring in for NASA, a federal agency that has been under a great deal of criticism since its manned space flight program has come to an end.
"Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination."
Buzz Aldrin, one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who first walked on the moon, lauded the mission with an eye to the future.
"@marscuriosity has successfully landed on Mars. I'm at JPL on this momentous evening. This is one of many stepping stones to manned missions," he said on Twitter, according to Space.com.
Over the next few weeks, Curiosity will put up its mast, deploy its instruments and prepare to move around the Gale Crater, where it was landed. Powered by plutonium, Curiosity is expected to operate for years, perhaps decades, and has sophisticated instruments that will allow it to collect, sample and analyze all kinds of Martian rocks and dust in its hunt for signs of life.
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH Radio Boston.