(Tina Sjogren) 3000 people in Pasadena's Conference Center watched Curiosity land on Mars this evening. In an event organized by The Planetary Society, live streams from JPL and ultimately Mars were fed to big screens here and around the world.
Following millions of entries for things to check there was nothing left for the engineers to do. The word "nerve-wrecking" was used several times during conference talks through the day.
"By far the hardest thing I've ever done," said JPL's Mars Science Laboratory chief engineer Rob Manning before jetting back to JPL for the final touchdown.
After dinner people re-assembled in the ballroom. Closeups of tense faces in the control room at JPL alternated with shots of the crowd. All ages took to their feet and many climbed onto the chairs as the 2000-lb rover, twice as big as the previous models, got ready for a lonely descent without human assistance.
Digital data and whistle tones (!) signaled "heartbeats" from the machine. Anticipation mounted when entry commenced and the parachute was deployed. Cheers sounded at each assignment nailed. Landing brought on a roar, people hugged and when pictures surfaced of the red planet with a shadow of the rover itself to boot, there were gasps and tears.
Now awaits 2 years of exploration. The most complex vehicle we've sent to Mars yet, Curiosity is a Swiss army knife of rovers with lots of blades to check. But the rover will be able to "sniff" the rock for signs of life (types of methane) and investigate Mars history. The landing site in Gale crater was selected for its layers of strata offering a timeline from old to young.
The robot will climb halfway up a mountain (the upper slopes are too fluffy and steep) and examine
fresh craters ("poor man's holes into the subsurface") to unearth interesting stuff below, no drilling required.
Sadly, this rover mission is the last one planned. Hopefully Curiosity will change that. Amid financial gloom and science cuts this was an amazing event to witness, vibrant with dreams, resilience - and hope.
#Space #topstory #feature
Visit our new website