NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has touched down on the surface of the Red Planet, completing a 154-million-mile journey, and marking the beginning of a new era in planetary exploration.
President Obama released the following statement immediately after the landing:
Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history.
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.
Tonight’s success, delivered by NASA, parallels our major steps forward towards a vision for a new partnership with American companies to send American astronauts into space on American spacecraft. That partnership will save taxpayer dollars while allowing NASA to do what it has always done best – push the very boundaries of human knowledge. And tonight’s success reminds us that our preeminence – not just in space, but here on Earth – depends on continuing to invest wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research that has always made our economy the envy of the world.
I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality – and I eagerly await what Curiosity has yet to discover.
But landing on Mars wasn’t easy. NASA engineers have actually come to refer to the entry, descent and landing (EDL) of the spacecraft as “seven minutes of terror.”
Curiosity, which weighs a ton and is about the size of a small SUV, approached Mars at about 13,000 miles per hour. When the Martian atmosphere slowed the craft to about 900 miles per hour, a supersonic parachute deployed, slowing the craft even further. But the rover was still descending too quickly to land in one piece.
After the rover separated from the parachute, rocket motors fired, continuing to slow the descent. Then, at about 60 feet above the surface, a “sky-crane” lowered the rover to its new home on the Red Planet.
According to NASA, the rover touched down at approximately 1:30 a.m. EDT.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) director Charles Elachi presents a can of “good luck” peanuts during an overview of the status and plans for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at JPL in Pasadena, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. After traveling 8 1/2 months and 352 million miles, Curiosity will attempt a landing on Mars Sunday night. In keeping with a decades-old tradition, peanuts will be passed around the mission control room at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory for good luck. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
FILE – In this file photo taken Thursday, Aug., 2012, Adam Steltzner, Mars Science Laboratory’s entry, descent and landing phase leader at JPL uses a scale model to explains the Curiosity rover’s Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) during the Mission Engineering Overview news briefing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars Sunday night, Aug. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
FILE – This Aug. 2, 2012 file photo shows Nick Lam, data controller, monitoring the Mars rover Curiosity from the Deep Space Network’s control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. NASA’s Curiosity rover is zooming toward Mars. With about a day to go until a landing attempt, the space agency says the nuclear-powered rover appears on course. Tension will be high late Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, when it plummets during the “seven minutes of terror.” Skimming the top of the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph, the rover needs to brake to a stop _ in seven minutes _ and set its six wheels down on the surface. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
MARS SCIENCE LABORATORY
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission members work in the data processing room beside Mission Control at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California August 2, 2012 ahead of the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity. NASA said Thursday all was well ahead of its nail-biting mission to Mars, with its most advanced robotic rover poised to hunt for clues about past life and water on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor. On a two-year journey to seek out signs of environments that once sustained life, the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory and the largest and most sophisticated rover ever built, Curiosity, is set for 1:31 am August 6 (0531 GMT). AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)