NASA’s Curiosity rover has transmitted a low-resolution video showing the last 2½ minutes of its white-knuckle dive through the Martian atmosphere, giving earthlings a sneak peek of a spacecraft landing on another world.
As thumbnails of the video flashed on a big screen on Monday, scientists and engineers at the NASA Jet Propulsion let out "oohs" and "aahs." The recording began with the protective heat shield falling away and ended with dust being kicked up as the rover was lowered by cables inside an ancient crater.
NASA’s robotic explorer Curiosity landed safely on the surface of Mars on Monday and transmitted this image of the red planet’s surface. Curiosity, NASA’s newest and best-equipped rover, is set to search Mars’ surface for two years, with hopes of finding evidence that the planet could have once sustained life. (NASA/Reuters)
It was a sneak preview, since it’ll take some time before full-resolution frames are beamed back depending on other priorities.
The full video "will just be exquisite," said Michael Malin, the chief scientist of the instrument.
NASA celebrated the precision landing of a rover on Mars and marveled over the mission’s flurry of photographs — grainy, black-and-white images of Martian gravel, a mountain at sunset and, most exciting of all, the spacecraft’s white-knuckle plunge through the red planet’s atmosphere.
Curiosity, a roving laboratory the size of a compact car, landed right on target late Sunday after an eight-month, 352-million-mile journey. It parked its six wheels about four miles from its ultimate science destination — Mount Sharp, rising from the floor of Gale Crater near the equator.
Extraordinary efforts were needed for the landing because the rover weighs one ton, and the thin Martian atmosphere offers little friction to slow down a spacecraft. Curiosity had to go from 13,000 mph to zero in seven minutes, unfurling a parachute, then firing rockets to brake. In a Hollywood-style finish, cables delicately lowered it to the ground at 2 mph.
At the end of what NASA called "seven minutes of terror," the vehicle settled into place almost perfectly flat in the crater it was aiming for.
"We have ended one phase of the mission much to our enjoyment," mission manager Mike Watkins said. "But another part has just begun."
The nuclear-powered Curiosity will dig into the Martian surface to analyze what’s there and hunt for some of the molecular building blocks of life, including carbon.
It won’t start moving for a couple of weeks, because all the systems on the $2.5 billion rover have to be checked out. Colour photos and panoramas will start coming in the next few days.
Curiosity’s 4.5-metre diameter heat shield falling away about 2 1/2 minutes before the rover touched down on the surface of Mars and about three seconds after heat shield separated from the spacecraft carrying the rover. The image was taken by the rover’s Mars Descent Imager when the shield was about 16 metres from the spacecraft. It is among the first color images Curiosity sent back from Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
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