An ambitious maneuver involving an enormous supersonic parachute and a rocket-powered sky crane safely delivered the one-ton, $2.5 billion dollar robot to the surface of Mars.
A car-size NASA rover touched down on the Martian surface late Sunday night (Aug. 5), executing a stunning series of maneuvers that seem pulled from the pages of a sci-fi novel.
News of the 1-ton Curiosity rover's successful landing came in at 10:31 p.m. PDT Sunday (1:31 a.m. EDT and 0517 GMT Monday), though the robot actually touched down inside Mars' huge Gale Crater around 10:17 p.m. (It takes about 14 minutes for signals to travel from the Red Planet to Earth).
"Touchdown confirmed. We're safe on Mars!" a mission controller announced to deafening cheers here at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Rover team members leapt to their feet to hug and high-five each other.
Then, a few minutes later, Curiosity's first photo — a fuzzy thumbnail showing one of the huge rover's six wheels on the Martian surface — came down to Earth, sparking another eruption of emotion.
"It's the wheel! It's the wheel!" somebody exclaimed in mission control. [1st Images of Mars from Curiosity Rover (Video)]
Curiosity survived a harrowing and unprecedented journey to the Red Planet's surface. After hurtling into the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph late Sunday (21,000 kph), Curiosity's spacecraft deployed an enormous supersonic parachute to slow down to 200 mph (320 kph) or so. The vehicle then fired rockets to slow its descent further, to less than 2 mph (3.2 kph).
Then the craziness began.
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