Curiosity rover’s Mars landing a miracle of engineering

Thanks to NASA, we now have a new image of the surface of Mars, and a video of the descent. We can now witness what it looks like to land on another planet.

The image presents the first in colour view of the planet, where it landed on the north wall and rim of Gale Crater. The fuzzy photo was taken using a camera at the end of a robotic arm, and more photos will be released in the coming days as it explores further.

When it raises its mast on August 8th, new cameras will open, allowing for higher quality photos of the red planet.

The video of the descent wowed NASA engineers as they watched it on Monday. It  begins with the protective heat shield falling off and ends with dust flying around as the rover is lowered into an ancient crater. It is only a sneak preview of what is to come, as full resolution frames will be beamed back in the days to come.

Chief scientist of the instrument, Michael Mann, assured CBC that the video “will just be exquisite.”

Curiosity is a roving laboratory the size of a small car, and it managed to land right on target on Sunday night, after an eight month long journey of 352 million miles.

Since the rover weighs a full ton and the thin atmosphere in Mars doesn’t offer any friction to slow down the spacecraft, extreme efforts were needed to ensure its safe landing. Within seven short minutes, it had to go from 13,000 miles per hour to zero.

Though NASA referred to it as “seven minutes of terror,” the landing went off without a hitch, using a parachute, cables, and rockets as brakes.

While phase one of the journey is now complete, scientists note that phase two is just beginning. The rover is set to analyze the surface of the planet for building blocks of life, such as carbon and other molecules.

Mission manager Mike Watkins noted that the photos show “a new Mars we have never seen before, so every one of those pictures is the most beautiful picture I have ever seen.”

The rover is the heaviest machine ever to have landed on Mars, and its success has given the space agency the confidence to unload equipment astronauts may need in future trips to the planet. The $2.5 billion dollar project will explore Mars for two years.

Canada also had a part in the landing. Watch CBC discuss this country’s connection to it:

Watch the full press conference held after the successful landing:

Watch the video of the decent:

Sources:  CBC, National Post

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