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Curiosity Lands on Mars, Sends First Picture in Minutes

By - Source: NASA | B 40 comments

NASA Curiosity has reached Mars without a hitch.

In a much anticipated event, the most advanced Mars rover touched down on the red planet's surface on Sunday at 10:32 PM PST, one minute behind schedule and only 2.27 miles from the targeted location inside the Gale Crater. It was a landing of stunning precision, given the fact that the signal sent by the equipment takes 14 minutes to reach Earth, which means that, by the time NASA and the member of the Jet Propulsion Lab received confirmation of the beginning of the seven-minute landing process, Curiosity had successfully landed seven minutes before that and began sending data and first images, which reached NASA at 10:34 PM PST.

In a live feed shown on NASA's page, people around the world followed the landing and it appeared to be taking place exactly as planned.

"The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph," said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld in a prepared statement. "My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission's team."

In fact, it was a much needed success for cash-strapped NASA, which is celebrating an immense success and gain in prestige. President Barack Obama previously set the goal for humans to be sent to Mars by 2030 and much more advanced landing of Curiosity, which included several phases of descent and slowdowns of the capsule and its car-sized rover, lend confidence that this goal is realistic and achievable.

At this time, NASA is evaluating Curiosity's instruments and is analyzing the landing site. There are ten instruments on board that have 15 times the mass of the instruments of the payload previously carried by the now immobile Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on January 4 and January 25, 2004. Curiosity is about twice as long and five times as massive as the Spirit and Opportunity Mars exploration rovers. It weighs 1,982 lbs and is 9.8 ft in length. It can pass obstacles up to 30 inches in height and will travel at an anticipated average speed of 98 ft per hour.

Its power is derived from a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), similar to the one used by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 Mars landers in 1976. The power output is 125 watts of electrical power extracted from about 2000 watts of thermal power, which will gradually decrease as the plutonium-238 decays over time. Scientists estimate that there will be about 100 watts of electrical power left in about 14 years. Curiosity can generate about 2.5 kWh per day, in comparison to only 0.6 kWh the smaller Spirit and Opportunity had available.


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  • 18 Hide
    bunkgoats , August 6, 2012 8:17 PM
    A triumph of science, technology, engineering and mathematics! Congrats to everyone at NASA!
  • 16 Hide
    igot1forya , August 6, 2012 8:22 PM
    True professionals! Sad to see funding cut for these guys, but they seem to make the most of the slim pickings with these amazing feats of engineering! The live feed was a nail-biter - I sure hope this generation can find inspiration from this and pick up an interest in the future of space flight.
  • 10 Hide
    Zagen30 , August 6, 2012 8:57 PM
    "There are ten instruments on board that have 15 times the mass of the instruments of the payload previously carried by the now immobile Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on January 4 and January 25, 2004."

    You should clarify that Opportunity is still active, and that only Spirit is immobile (and, in fact, inactive).

    dragonsqrrlUnfortunately, it won't. The MSL's radioactive power source will last for 2 years before it expires. While it will provide more operational hours during those first 2 years than the previous solar powered rovers, it'll ultimately be incapable of achieving the same operational lifespan.


    The article says that it should last many years and should still be outputting 100 W of usable power 14 years down the road.
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    freggo , August 6, 2012 8:08 PM
    So NASA is not 4 4 4 :-)

    4 for 4 rover landings going from a shoebox size to a VW Beatle.
    Can't wait to see what they will dig up with this one; and of course what size #5 will be.
    Congrats to the team !
  • 8 Hide
    sp0nger , August 6, 2012 8:14 PM
    Hope this one lasts just as long as oppertunity!
  • 18 Hide
    bunkgoats , August 6, 2012 8:17 PM
    A triumph of science, technology, engineering and mathematics! Congrats to everyone at NASA!
  • 16 Hide
    igot1forya , August 6, 2012 8:22 PM
    True professionals! Sad to see funding cut for these guys, but they seem to make the most of the slim pickings with these amazing feats of engineering! The live feed was a nail-biter - I sure hope this generation can find inspiration from this and pick up an interest in the future of space flight.
  • 1 Hide
    killerclick , August 6, 2012 8:23 PM
    I was watching it live on NASA's website, and was surprised by all the Macbooks they use in mission control.

    Still, it was great, even if it's been 43 years after the Moon landing.
  • 1 Hide
    killerclick , August 6, 2012 8:26 PM
    igot1forya Sad to see funding cut for these guys, but they seem to make the most of the slim pickings with these amazing feats of engineering!


    I wouldn't call $2.5B slim pickings, but I'd love to see a mission like this done every month. If Boeing and Lockheed Martin need to be fed, it's better that they make space stuff than weapons.
  • 3 Hide
    hotsacoman , August 6, 2012 8:29 PM
    Sooooooo fake... This is not at all how it looks in Mass Effect.
  • 0 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , August 6, 2012 8:33 PM
    sp0ngerHope this one lasts just as long as oppertunity!

    Unfortunately, it won't. The MSL's radioactive power source will last for 2 years before it expires. While it will provide more operational hours during those first 2 years than the previous solar powered rovers, it'll ultimately be incapable of achieving the same operational lifespan.
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , August 6, 2012 8:39 PM
    Why in Black and White???? :S
  • 5 Hide
    thety6on , August 6, 2012 8:42 PM
    I love Tom's, but why are they so late to everything?
  • 4 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , August 6, 2012 8:43 PM
    killerclickI wouldn't call $2.5B slim pickings, but I'd love to see a mission like this done every month.

    There's a relatively narrow window every two years when missions to mars are possible. If you miss it, you have to wait another two years.
  • 6 Hide
    Khimera2000 , August 6, 2012 8:56 PM
    SorelWhy in Black and White???? :S


    Those are not the high res cameras, there the ones used for navigating I think they called them HazCams, they also made mention that the bandwidth was limited during initial... something like 500Kb i think and that the images would be given only a small amount of bandwidth. There still checking to see if it landed on a safe place (no craters, cracks etc) to deploy the arm that has the cam, so the high rez shots will still be a couple of days out.

    Also I don't think we really had the time to send back big detailed image even if they prioritized it. They didn't have much of a window for communication the contact with the rover was counted in min after landing. There was enough time to send two 240 pixel shots and two 420 pixel shots before they made mention about the signal being cut off because of the horizon.
  • 10 Hide
    Zagen30 , August 6, 2012 8:57 PM
    "There are ten instruments on board that have 15 times the mass of the instruments of the payload previously carried by the now immobile Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on January 4 and January 25, 2004."

    You should clarify that Opportunity is still active, and that only Spirit is immobile (and, in fact, inactive).

    dragonsqrrlUnfortunately, it won't. The MSL's radioactive power source will last for 2 years before it expires. While it will provide more operational hours during those first 2 years than the previous solar powered rovers, it'll ultimately be incapable of achieving the same operational lifespan.


    The article says that it should last many years and should still be outputting 100 W of usable power 14 years down the road.
  • 5 Hide
    pedro_mann , August 6, 2012 9:09 PM
    dragonsqrrlUnfortunately, it won't. The MSL's radioactive power source will last for 2 years before it expires. While it will provide more operational hours during those first 2 years than the previous solar powered rovers, it'll ultimately be incapable of achieving the same operational lifespan.

    Funny. Do you have a citation for this? The way I read the article it sound like it will take 14 years to reduce from 125 watts production to 100 watts. I am going to guess that they over provisioned the power generation so the Rover would be available for an extended mission. In fact, I can almost guess that is a guarantee, since they won't be trying to power the one shot ovens on an extended mission. My guess is that the mission can be extended until 14 years or wear and tear sets in, whichever comes first.
  • -8 Hide
    Dangi , August 6, 2012 9:12 PM
    AT LAST !!! This time they didn't mix the unities of measurement and ended crashing the ship like last time.

    I hope this gives us greater understanding of Mars, even though using a nuclear reactor is not of my liking.
  • 4 Hide
    Devoteicon , August 6, 2012 9:12 PM
    *yawns*

    Call me when New Horizons reaches Pluto.
  • 0 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , August 6, 2012 9:22 PM
    Zagen30The article says that it should last many years and should still be outputting 100 W of usable power 14 years down the road.

    hmm, I'm so accustomed to the news articles on Tom's being pointless rehashes of information I heard last week that I didn't even take the time to read through the whole article (important lesson learned).

    This is interesting. I wonder why they've said countless times that this power source allows for a mission operating lifespan of nearly two years while at the same time saying the life time of the power source is 14 years? Perhaps they're predicting 2 years of fully operational power, before it or some other component of the vehicle decays to the point where full mission operations are no longer possible?
  • 0 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , August 6, 2012 9:25 PM
    pedro_mannFunny. Do you have a citation for this? The way I read the article it sound like it will take 14 years to reduce from 125 watts production to 100 watts. I am going to guess that they over provisioned the power generation so the Rover would be available for an extended mission. In fact, I can almost guess that is a guarantee, since they won't be trying to power the one shot ovens on an extended mission. My guess is that the mission can be extended until 14 years or wear and tear sets in, whichever comes first.

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/technology/technologiesofbroadbenefit/power/

    This, and every other article I've read related to this mission has suggested that the rover will last for two years. This is honestly the first time I've heard that the MSL could potentially be powered for over a decade. I guess when I repeatedly saw that two year figure tossed around, I simply assumed it was a power limitation, since it was always mentioned in relation to the power source.
  • 1 Hide
    Kami3k , August 6, 2012 9:45 PM
    dragonsqrrlhttp://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/missi [...] fit/power/This, and every other article I've read related to this mission has has suggested that the rover will last for two years. This is honestly the first time I've heard that the MSL could potentially be powered for over a decade.


    "The MMRTG optimizes power levels over a minimum lifetime of 14 years."

    That is that link you showed.

    How the hell you get it has a 2 year lifespan?

    Seriously?
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