By Adam Mann | Wired
After executing a flawless landing sequence, NASA’s new Mars rover, Curiosity, has reached the surface of its new home.
“We are wheels down on Mars,” was the official word from mission control. Engineers immediately erupted into applause, hugs, and a few tears.
“That rocked! Seriously, was that not cool?” said Richard Cook, deputy project manager of the rover, during a NASA press conference after the event.
Soon after the landing, the first images came from Curiosity’s cameras, showing pebbles, dust, and the shadow of the rover on the surface of Mars.
“It’s just absolutely incredible, and it’s a huge day for the American people,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden on NASA TV. “Everybody in the morning should be sticking their chest out and saying, ‘That’s my rover on Mars,’ because it belongs to everyone.”
Anxiety had been running high, especially considering that most Mars missions have historically failed. But the spacecraft and complex landing sequence executed everything in perfect order.
After a few days of warm-up, the 1-ton nuclear powered rover will now be able to begin its primary mission: sampling and drilling the Martian surface for signs of habitability.
This flagship mission has been in the planning for more than 14 years. Scientists learned from the previous generation of rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, that Mars has a complex past, with times when water was far more prevalent on the planet’s surface. The impetus behind Curiosity was sending a machine with all the capabilities of a state-of-the-art laboratory on Earth to investigate this history in detail.
The rover was subject to delays and cost overruns, eventually coming in at a total cost of $2.5 billion. During the press conference, NASA officials pointed out that this amount to roughly $7 per U.S. citizen.