Curiosity Touches Down on Mars and the Landing is Perfect
It was a tense weekend for the aerospace program as the science exploration rover, Curiosity, approached the thin atmosphere of Mars. The Red Planet often seems to be jinxed. Historically, there have been more failures than success stories in attempting to land capsules on Mars, with 24 failed attempts and 15 successful ones, but the space agency was optimistic. Out of eight attempted American landings, only two had failed.
On the fourth of August, the robotic rover reached its destination, piercing through an icy sky, and beginning its harrowing descent. The moment of truth had arrived, and all eyes remained on the control panels as they waited for the verdict. They did not have to wait long. Amid cheers and cries, it was announced that Curiosity had touched down and the landing had been a success.
Curiosity began its 352 million mile journey in November, traveling at 13,000 miles per hour before piercing the atmosphere of Mars. Its mission is to examine the terrain in search of evidence that the planet had once supported life. For two years, the rover will be busy exploring the Gale Crater, analyzing samples of soil, rocks and the atmosphere for clues as to the planet’s capacity for supporting the microbial building blocks for life in the past or in the present.
Curiosity’s performance has been exemplary. Both the time of arrival and location for touch down in the giant crater with a three-mile high mountain were precise. As soon as it landed, it began transmitting back to earth photographs showing its wheels resting comfortably on the planet’s surface.
Weighing in at over a ton, the robotic vehicle was not able to land in the traditional method used by previous rovers, with air bags to ease its descent. Its fall was cushioned by a super-sonic parachute, as well as rockets to slow its entrance into Mars gravity, and a set of tethers to help it land in its last few feet. The innovative landing gear had never been tried before, making the touch down with Mars, Curiosity’s first field trip.
It will be several weeks before the rover can actually begin work. Mission control must first go over Curiosity’s highly sophisticated mechanical and electronic equipment to ensure there was no damage during its long flight and descent. The ten foot long vehicle, also known as the Mars science laboratory, could almost be called a living thing. Curiosity has a brain, a body, an arm, wheels for legs, an ability to “see” for communications, a battery for a life support system and ears for listening. It is the most advanced robotic rover yet built by the aeronautics program, and the largest vehicle to land on Mars.
It was a moment of victory for NASA, which recently faced severe budget cuts for its shuttle program with the International Space Station. For the past year, astronauts have had to depend on Russian transportation to arrive at and leave the space station.
President Obama declared Curiosity’s triumph “was an unprecedented feat in technology, that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future.” For the men and women who worked at Cape Canaveral, it was proof that America still has something it can be proud of , and that much can be accomplished through will and determination.