PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's most advanced Mars rover, Curiosity, has landed on the Red Planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars Sunday to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack.
Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. PDT Aug. 5, (1:32 a.m. EDT Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater -- a phenomenal solar system "hole in one!"
During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life. The rover carries devices that will allow it to drill into rocks and take soil samples which it can then analyze using its built-in laboratory facilities. It also has the ability to fire LASER light beams at interesting rocks for remote analysis.
Engineers will run through a series of tests and procedures to prepare the small car-sized rover for driving. New images from the surface of Mars are expected within a few days once the machine's camera mast is raised and sensors are turned on.
Curiosity is powered by a radioactive heat source rather than by solar cells. Since it does not depend upon the Sun for energy, the rover can operate at full power all year long, at night, and will stand less threat from dust accumulation -- Mars is a very dusty place!
Image: Curiosity descending towards the surface of Mars, hanging from its supersonic parachute (larger of the two dots inside the white box). Image was captured by the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona