After eight years of planning, Curiosity, the largest and most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet landed on Mars at 5.33 GMT (1.33 EDT) this morning.
The high-tech craft hit the top of the Martian atmosphere at 13,000mph, and was then slowly lowered by a radical floating ‘sky crane’ before gently arriving in a massive crater. Curiosity sent out a text message basically saying, “I made it!”
Applause erupted across the campus of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge and engineers inside mission control could be seen hugging and weeping with joy.
Minutes after the news of the landing broke, commentator Allen Chen brought more good news: “We have thumbnails!” Odyssey delivered pictures showing the view from hazard avoidance cameras mounted on the rover.
The primary mission is expected to last for at least one Martian year, or 687 Earth days.
The Curiosity rover is roughly the size of a Mini Cooper. It cost a lot more but has better fuel economy, having coasted 352 million miles since launch, in 8.5 months.
The extraterrestrial feat injected a much-needed boost to NASA, which is debating whether it can afford another Mars landing this decade. At a budget-busting $2.5 billion, Curiosity is the priciest gamble yet, which scientists hope will pay off with a bonanza of discoveries.
President Barack Obama says NASA’s successful mission to put a robotic rover on Mars is an “unprecedented feat of technology.”
In a statement issued Monday shortly after the rover Curiosity landed, Obama said “Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history.”