One of the first photos sent back by the Martian rover Curiosity after it landed early Monday, June 6, Pacific Time. The photo shows one of Curiosity’s wheels. (Credit NASA/JPL)
That call at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirmed the rover and robotic laboratory Curiosity landed safely on Mars late Sunday night Pacific Time. An anxious crowd of controllers, engineers and scientists at the JPL control room erupted into cheers, applause, hugs and a collective sigh of relief that Curiosity survived the feared “seven minutes of terror” as it dove through the Martian atmosphere, opened its giant parachute, ignited its rocket-powered sky crane that slowed it to a hover, and finally the crane lowered Curiosity gently to the surface for “wheels down on Mars.”
Curiosity apparently wasn’t terrified at all. Whatever intelligence was built into the rover, anxiety wasn’t part of the deal. Controllers kept reporting a normal electronic heartbeat from Curiosity throughout the landing procedure, a spectacular procedure never tried on an alien planet before. Despite all the preflight tests, the JPL staff couldn’t help but be nervous about it, fearing a spectacular failure that could doom future missions.
But Curiosity did all it was supposed to do, on time, no problems, and landed in a cloud of dust without so much as a “hi ho, Silver” or a robotic “yippee!” It just sent back some quick electronic postcards showing the Martian surface, Curiosity’s way of saying, “Wish you were here.”
So say we all.