NASA’s rover Curiosity safely lands on planet of Mars
By Sadaf Shinwari - Mon Aug 06 2012, 11:10 am
Curiosity, the largest and most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet, stuck its extraordinary landing Sunday night without a hitch and is poised to begin its pioneering two-year hunt for the building blocks of life — signs that Earth’s creatures may not be alone in the universe.
“Touchdown confirmed,” said engineer Allen Chen. “We’re safe on Mars.”
Minutes after touchdown, Curiosity beamed back the first pictures from the surface showing its wheel and its shadow, cast by the afternoon sun.
It was NASA’s seventh landing on Earth’s neighbour; many other attempts by the U.S. and other countries to zip past, circle or set down on Mars have gone awry.
The arrival was an engineering tour de force, debuting never-before-tried acrobatics packed into “seven minutes of terror” as Curiosity sliced through the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph.
Over the next two years, Curiosity will drive over to a mountain rising from the crater floor, poke into rocks and scoop up rust-tinted soil to see if the region ever had the right environment for microscopic organisms to thrive. It’s the latest chapter in the long-running quest to find out whether primitive life arose early in the planet’s history.
The voyage to Mars took more than eight months and spanned 352 million miles. The trickiest part of the journey? The landing. Because Curiosity weighs nearly a ton, engineers drummed up a new and more controlled way to set the rover down. The last Mars rovers, twins Spirit and Opportunity, were cocooned in air bags and bounced to a stop in 2004.