“Wheels down on Mars”

 Posted by at 11:07 am on August 6, 2012  News  Add comments
Aug 062012

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.

  2 Responses to ““Wheels down on Mars””

  1. It a shame the popular press is so underwhelmed by this feat. This is quite an accomplishment but has not been widely recognized as such.

    • Maybe if the popular press worried less about being popular and more about being essential, milestones like this would be better recognized. (And this from someone with a long background in newspapers). Still, there are specialty news sites like Space.com and blog sites like this one that are paying attention. While MartianSands is a fledgling site, sites like this can help spur the discussion that builds support for expanding our exploration and presence in the Solar System.

      Thanks for writing.

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