Nasa makes history with Mars landing

2012-08-06 08:24
A data controller monitors the Mars rover Curiosity from the Deep Space Network's control room at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. (Damian Dovarganes, AP)

A data controller monitors the Mars rover Curiosity from the Deep Space Network's control room at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. (Damian Dovarganes, AP)

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Decoding history of Mars

2012-08-06 09:27

Nasa’s Curiosity has landed on Mars after an eight-and-a-half-month journey. Watch this video to find out how it will unlock the secrets of the Red Planet.WATCH

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Pasadena - Nasa's successful landing of its $2.5bn Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity rover on the surface of the red planet marks the most ambitious attempt to reach Mars in history.

The landing, a major victory for a US space agency beleaguered by budget cuts and the recent loss of its space shuttle programme, was greeted with raucous applause and tears of joy by jubilant engineers and scientists at mission control.

"Touchdown confirmed," said a member of mission control at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the room erupted in cheers. "We are wheels down on Mars. Oh, my God."

A dusty image of the rover's wheel on the surface, taken from a rear camera on the vehicle, confirmed the arrival of the car-sized rover and its sophisticated toolkit designed to hunt for signs that life once existed there.

A second image arrived within seconds, showing the shadow of the rover on Mars.

Sky crane

When the landing was announced after a tense, seven minute process known as entry, descent and landing, the room filled with jubilation as chief scientists distributed Mars chocolate bars to the Nasa staff members.

However, success was anything but certain with this first-of-its-kind attempt to drop a six-wheeled chemistry lab by rocket-powered sky crane on an alien planet. Nasa's more recent rover landings were done with the help of airbags.

In the final moments, the spacecraft accelerated with the pull of gravity as it nears Mars' atmosphere, making a fiery entry at a speed of 21 240km/h and then slowing down with the help of a supersonic parachute.

After that, an elaborate sky crane powered by rocket blasters kicked in, and the rover was lowered down by nylon tethers, apparently landing upright on all six wheels.

Scientists do not expect Curiosity to find aliens or living creatures. Rather they hope to use it to analyse soil and rocks for signs that the building blocks of life are present and may have supported life in the past.

The project also aims to study the Martian environment to prepare for a possible human mission there in the coming years.

It has already been collecting data on radiation during its eight and a half month journey following launch in November 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Earlier on Sunday, Mars programme director Doug McCuistion called the science "absolutely crucial" to finding out if Earthlings are alone, how Mars evolved from a wet to a dry planet and how accessible Mars may be for human explorers in the future.

"If we succeed, it will be one of the greatest feats in planetary exploration ever," he told reporters. "Our success rate has been pretty darn good recently."

However, he cautioned that "these things are really hard to do" and admitted that "we may not be successful".

Attempts by global space agencies since 1960 have resulted in a near 40% success rate in sending landers, orbiters or other spacecraft for flybys to Mars. Nasa has the best record.

Read more on:    nasa  |  space
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