PASADENA, Calif. — NASA celebrated the precision landing of a rover on Mars and marveled over the mission’s first photographs Monday — grainy, black-and-white images of Martian gravel, a mountain at sunset and, most exciting of all, the spacecraft’s white-knuckle plunge through the red planet’s atmosphere.
Curiosity, a roving laboratory the size of a compact car, landed right on target late Sunday night after an eight-month, 352-million-mile journey on a Decatur-built Atlas V rocket.
Cheers and applause echoed through NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and engineers hugged, high-fived and thrust their fists in the air after signals from space indicated the vehicle had survived the harrowing descent through Mars’ pinkish atmosphere.
JPL Director Charles Elachi likened the team to Olympic athletes: “This team came back with the gold.”
“Everybody in the morning should be sticking their chests out and saying, ‘That’s my rover on Mars,’ ” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said on NASA TV.
Extraordinary efforts were needed for the landing because the rover weighs one ton, and the thin Martian atmosphere offers little friction to slow a spacecraft down. Curiosity had to go from 13,000 mph to zero in seven minutes, unfurling a parachute, then firing rockets to brake. In a Hollywood-style finish, cables delicately lowered it to the ground at 2 mph.
At the end of what NASA called “seven minutes of terror,” the vehicle settled into place almost perfectly flat in the crater it was aiming for.
“We have ended one phase of the mission much to our enjoyment,” mission manager Mike Watkins said. “But another part has just begun.”
The nuclear-powered Curiosity will dig into the Martian surface to analyze what’s there and hunt for some of the molecular building blocks of life, including carbon.
It won’t start moving for a couple of weeks, because all the systems on the $2.5 billion rover have to be checked out.
Color photos, panoramas and video will start coming in the next few days.
Mars mission: www.nasa.gov/msl
Alicia Chang’s Mars coverage: www.twitter.com/SciWriAlicia
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
|High School Sports||@DecaturPreps|