Curiosity gives peek of Mars journey

2012-08-08 09:40

Pasadena - Nasa's latest adventure to Mars has given the world more than just glimpses of a new alien landscape.

It opened a window into the trip itself, from video footage of the landing to a photo of the rover hanging by a parachute to a shot of discarded spacecraft hardware strewn across the surface. And the best views - of Mars and the journey there - are yet to come.

"Spectacular," mission deputy project scientist Joy Crisp said of the footage. "We've not had that before."

Since parking itself inside an ancient crater on Monday morning, the Curiosity rover has delighted scientists with views of its new surroundings, including the 4.8km-high mountain it will drive to. It beamed back the first colour picture on Tuesday revealing a tan-hued, pebbly landscape and the crater rim off in the distance.

Locale aside, Curiosity is giving scientists an unprecedented sense of what it took to reach its Martian destination. The roving laboratory sent back nearly 300 thumbnails that Nasa processed into a low-quality video showing the last two and a half minutes of its white-knuckle dive through the thin Martian atmosphere.


In the video, the protective heat shield pops off and tumbles away. The footage gets jumpy as Curiosity rides on a parachute. In the last scene, dust billows up just before landing.

Nasa twice tried to record a Mars landing. In 1999, the Mars Polar Lander carried similar gear, but it slammed into the south pole after prematurely shutting off its engines. Another effort was aborted in 2008 during the Phoenix lander's mission to the northern plains when mission managers decided not to turn it on for fear it would interfere with the landing.

"It's too emotional for me," said Ken Edgett of the Malin Space Science Systems, which operates the video camera. "It's been a long journey and it's really awesome."

The full high-resolution video will be downloaded when time allows and should give the first peek of a landing on another planet.

Curiosity's journey to Mars spanned eight months and 566 million kilometres. The rover gently touched down on Monday morning after executing an elaborate and untested landing routine. The size of a compact car, it was too heavy to land using air bags. Instead, it relied on a heat shield, parachute, rockets and cables to lower it to the ground.

During its seven-minute plunge through the atmosphere, Curiosity shed the spacecraft parts. On Tuesday, scientists got their first view of the castoffs. The eagle-eyed Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had circled over the landing site and spotted Curiosity and the scattered parts.

"It's like a crime scene photo," said Sarah Milkovich, a Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist.

First drive

The parachute appeared to be inflated, and the rocket stage that unspooled the cables crashed 640m from the landing site.

Earlier this week, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught Curiosity sailing through the Martian skies under a parachute. It was only the second time a spacecraft has been photographed on a parachute; the first was Phoenix during its descent to the surface.

The nuclear-powered, six-wheel Curiosity will spend the next two years chiselling into rocks and scooping up soil at Gale Crater to determine whether the environment ever had the right conditions for microbes to thrive. It will spend a chunk of its time driving to Mount Sharp where images from space reveal signs of past water on the lower flanks.

It'll be several weeks before it takes its first drive and flexes its robotic arm. Since landing, engineers have been busy performing health checkups on its systems and instruments. Over the next several days, it was poised to send back crisper pictures of its surroundings including a panorama.

The rover was "still in great shape", mission manager Michael Watkins said.

  • neljenna - 2012-08-08 10:10

    well that was a boring video ... whats so wonderful about that.. whoohoo we landed on another planet.. WTF.. may sort this one out first!

      preshen.govender.90 - 2012-08-08 11:01

      It is easier to send a rover to mars then a textbook to Limpopo

      iwan.v.schalkwyk - 2012-08-08 11:02


      ben.louw.5 - 2012-08-08 11:13

      It makes me warm inside and extremely happy that people like Jenna isn't in charge... Here's to us "geeks" and imagination!

      jacowium - 2012-08-08 13:42

      Yes, with Jenna-types still amongst us, we definitely have to sort this planet out, soon.

      mike.down.5492 - 2012-08-08 13:54

      Another village idiot cave dweller ......Jenna

      arthur.hugh - 2012-08-08 14:45

      Holy mother of god lady, we landed a machine on mars for crying out loud. Preshen - you are priceless brother!!!!

  • Lyndatjie - 2012-08-08 10:17

    Its sad that the special effects and hollywood sensationalism fed to our youth today will mean that the true genius and achievement of this incredible event will completely pass them by. Sometimes reality pales in contrast... Oh well - I think its an incredible achievement and I clap a silent round of applause for this guys and dolls that made this happen.

      phae.rayden - 2012-08-08 10:38

      Actually there is a large movement of appreciation and fascination amongst youngsters across the world for this project, and well as support for money being spent on this type of project rather than war. Granted, not nearly enough but enough to keep these explorations active and alive in the minds and dreams of humans. I join you in your applause for these incredible people.

  • phae.rayden - 2012-08-08 10:18

    Got to be impressed with these cleaver, cleaver people! This is going to be an exciting journey.

  • rob.gunning.1 - 2012-08-08 10:28

    We can get streeming hi definition video from 500 million Km's away and I still can't get decent terrestrial cellphone reception. :(

      nigel.vanysendyk - 2012-08-08 10:38

      or decent internet, thanks to our recently fined telecommunications parastatal.

  • arthur.hugh - 2012-08-08 14:48

    Absolutely breath taking! I can't wait to see the hires photo's! Can't even fathom the genius it takes to get something like this right. We should sell all our army rubbish and put all our bucks into this kind of research and exploration!

  • walter.lebza - 2012-08-08 17:33

    Its just a toy car fitted with a video camera, paratute and some useless detectors, and the remote control is in Nasa buildings. All they did was to shoot it in the direction of mars, after 8 months it landed on mars. Download pictures Then 2 billion in the bank, thats how you steal money from tax payers legally.

      coenraad.vanderwesthuizen.3 - 2012-08-08 18:43

      you, sir, are an ignoranus with little or no motivation to give an informed opinion. People like you should stick to comics as a source of information and leave the real work for the grown-ups.

      skootzie - 2012-08-08 22:11

      Walter: You have zero clue about what you are talking about. Rather just keep quiet. "It better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid, than to open it and remove all doubt".

      johan.jacobs.5268 - 2012-08-08 22:39

      Walter......get a life!!!!

      coenraad.vanderwesthuizen.3 - 2012-08-08 23:01

      What? no clever reply? No conspiracy theories?

  • johan.jacobs.5268 - 2012-08-12 19:35

    I wished they had include a microphone with MSL. But in the other hand, you'll probably hear nothing with Mars thin 1/100 atmosphere compared to Earth's.

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