NASA’s Curiosity Space Rover landed on the surface of Mars at 1.33am Eastern this morning…and within minutes the pictures it had beamed back to Earth were posted to Twitter.
After a journey of 352 million miles and eight-and-a-half months Curiosity landed right on target after a series of amazing maneuvers which tested NASA engineers to their limits.
There were huge cheers of joy as the control room staff leapt from their seats once they realized that the mission to land the most technologically advanced space rover had been a complete success.
To get the $2.5bn rover down safely, Curiosity had to slow down from 13,000 mph to zero in a series of maneuvers which were dubbed “seven minutes of terror.”
In those seven minutes it used a supersonic parachute system, eight powerful rocket engines and a skycrain landing system to get it down.
Such was the huge interest in the event that it even caused the NASA website to crash for a short time as millions of people from around the world tried to access the first images beamed back by Curiosity.
President Obama described the event as “an unprecedented feat of technology” while John Holden, from the US Office of Science and Technology Policy, said it was “a passion for adventure” which had led to such “a spectacular achievement.”
Dr Holden added: “Landing the Mars science laboratory rover Curiosity on the surface of the red planet was, by any measure, the most challenging mission ever attempted in the history of robotic planetary exploration.”
The nuclear-powered Curiosity, the size of a small car, is packed with scientific tools, cameras and a weather station. Its mission is to study whether the Martian environment ever had conditions suitable for microbial life.
It will search for basic ingredients essential for life, including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, sulfur and oxygen but it is not equipped to search for living or fossil microorganisms.
Among its features are:
- a robotic arm with a power drill,
- a laser that can penetrate distant rocks,
- a chemistry lab to detect for the chemical building blocks of life and
- a detector to measure radiation levels on the planet surface.
The landing site – which is close to the equator of Mars – was chosen because there are signs of water everywhere and it is an area which seems to be rich in minerals.
Patrick has spent more than 20 years as a national newspaper journalist covering everything from hard news to showbiz and sport. As editor-at-large of YourGadgetGuide, Patrick likes to focus on how technology can be used to transform and improve our lifestyles.