Most challenging robotic mission ever attempted is a success so far.
Mars Science Laboratory arrived at its destination Sunday night at 10:31pm Pacific Time. The MSL team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s control center in Pasadena was ecstatic; the mission control room was flooded with jubilant pandemonium. According to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, who was there along with Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and Presidential Science Advisor John Holdren, "Everybody in the morning should be sticking their chests out saying, ’That’s MY Curiosity rover on Mars!’" The rover is checking out in perfect shape so far, and soon the science will begin.
Progress reports rolled in last night at a rate of about one per minute. Each time a milestone in the intricate system was transmitted home, the team clapped and broke out in spontaneous laughter.
The first two pictures from Curiosity as they were displayed for JPL mission control
Ecstasy breaks out in the JPL Mission Control Room.
Some events in the control room timeline as they arrived (14 minutes after they actually took place on Mars):
10:14 Lost telemetry, received heartbeat signals
10:15 Cruise stage separation, vehicle turns to the correct attitude, which means that the reaction control system rockets are working
10:20 5 minutes to entry, heartbeat tones still coming, spacecraft at about 5.5 km/sec
10:22 MRO began storing data for retransmission
10:24 Reentry began, signal dropped, indicating a change in antennas
10:26 Odyssey data begins flooding in, MSL deccelerating at about 11 G’s
10:28 17 kilometers altitude
10:29 Down to about Mach 2, parachute will deploy at Mach 1.7
10:30 Parachute deployed!!! Spacecraft decelerating well!
10:30 Still descending, at 6.9 kilometers
10:31 86 meters/second, 4.2 kilometers and descending
10:31 Powered flight!!! yes!!! down to 500 meters altitude, 50 m/sec
10:32 10m/sec, 40 m altitude
10:32 1.5m/sec descending, skycrane is working!!!
10:32 Touchdown confirmed!!!! The skycrane worked!!!! Joy in control room. Everyone’s faces are red.
10:34 First thumbnail of Curiosity’s wheel rolls in, cameras working
10:35 Full-sized picture with Curiosity’s wheel, Martian horizon arrives to sheer joy in the control room
Touchdown time was 10:14:39pm Pacific Time, 0.04435, 140.46kg of fuel remaining (out of 400kg to start) in descent stage as it flew away.
Scientists and engineers at JPL will spend the next several hours sorting through data relayed from two other spacecraft in orbit around Mars. Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter were catching the telemetry from Curiosity and sending it home to Earth.
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