The world held its collective breath when at 05.31 UTC, 06.31 BST on the 6th of August 2012 the Nasa car sized rover Curiosity , also named the Mars Science Laboratory landed on the red planet to look for the conditions that might have been comfortable for martian life. The rover landed in the 96 mile wide Gale Crater, sporting a 3 mile high mountain complete with layered deposits that will be a Martian treasure trove scientists. Mission control erupted in celebrations when those two words were heard, “Touch down”. Nasa websites crashed due to the huge amount of traffic, and #NASA, #MARSCURIOSITY, #MSL were all trending highly on Twitter. Nasa sent two very successful but smaller rovers to Mars in the recent past (Spirit and Opportunity), Opportunity is still working on Mars. Curiosity is more than 5 times heavier than Spirit or Opportunity.
These incredible images show the Mars Curiosity capsule with the rover contained, suspended beneath the huge parachute as it plunged through the Martian skies. The image was photographed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, it shows Curiosity at around 1 minute before touch down.
As scientists studied the image further they found something else in the picture above, something that was not seen at first. It was Curiosity’s heat shield (below) falling through the Mars sky on its way to the ground.
Not only that, but the video below was actually filmed from a camera onboard Curiosity as it descended and landed on Mars, see the heat shield falling away, and the dust blowing up as it touches down. It ends with part of Curiosity’s wheel showing at upper left, as the rover rests the ground.
Take a look at the image below as seen from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as it picked out the main components of the landing. You can see the sky crane that lowered the 1 tonne rover onto the ground before blasting off and away to a safe distance, the huge parachute and the back shell that the sky crane holding the rover detached from, the heat shield that got the whole thing safely through the Martian atmosphere. Also of course Curiosity sitting near the base of Mount Sharp, the 5 kilometre high mountain of Gale Crater.
How familiar does the image below look? Just like Earth, right? It could really be any rocky, dusty desert region on Earth, but this is on another planet 354 million miles away across the solar system from where you are right now. That’s what makes this all the more amazing, as the tiniest details can be made out, on that far away red point of light in the night sky. The image below is the first colour 360 degree panorama photograph taken by Curiosity’s mast camera, and assembled from thumbnails. The image shows grey areas where the sky crane’s descent rockets have blown away the top dusty layer.
There were emotional scenes at mission control when their 2.5 billion dollar baby finally got its wheels into the Martian dirt. If Nasa pulled this amazing feat off, what else are they now capable of doing? For just why Nasa chose Gale Crater to look for the conditions of Martian life, read Mars Curiosity, Why Gale Crater