Monday, August 06, 2012

An image of Curiosity's shadow with Mount Sharp in the background...taken by one of the rover's hazard-avoidance cameras.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Safely on Mars...again! At 10:32 PM, Pacific Daylight Time yesterday, Mission Control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California received official confirmation that the Curiosity rover has successfully touched down on Mars. The landing, from what was shown on NASA TV last night, seemed to proceed without a hitch. In fact, the "Seven Minutes of Terror" that was supposed to happen as Curiosity descended towards Gale Crater appeared to be less eventful and felt quicker than Phoenix's landing on Mars back in 2008. The fact that Curiosity arrived at the Red Planet on such a smooth note can be attributed to all the hard work the fine folks at JPL and around this country [as well as NASA's various international partners who are participating on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission] have performed over the last decade or so. Bravo!

Posing with the Curiosity Mars rover and its descent stage behind me, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on June 6, 2011.

My participation certificate for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

An image of the two microchips bearing the names of 1.25 million people on the surface of Mars.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

On a personal note, there's another reason why I'm so relieved that Curiosity has safely joined her three six-wheeled sisters (Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity) on the Martian surface. On the deck of the rover are two microchips bearing the names of 1.25 million people...including that of Yours Truly (as shown with the certificate above). Nice to know that my moniker as well as those of family members and friends whose names I also submitted over the past six years are now on the surface of Mars at two different locations: Gale Crater and the Northern Plains (where Phoenix resides). I hope that MSL controllers will eventually focus Curiosity's main camera (known as the Mastcam) toward the microchips; it's always great to have photographic proof of such a cool achievement!

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographs Curiosity before it lands on the Martian surface.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / University of Arizona

The European Space Agency (ESA) must be fuming right now. Had NASA remained on ESA's ExoMars project, the U.S. space agency would've provided an Atlas V launch vehicle (which is currently the most reliable expendable rocket in the U.S. inventory...if not the world) and a 'Skycrane' descent stage—the same landing system flawlessly used on Curiosity—to Europe's Mars mission (which will launch on separate flights in 2016 and 2018, respectivel)y. I'll resist the urge to point out how the ExoMars project is essentially doomed now that ESA is relying on Russia to launch its rover and landers to the Red Planet. Russia is good at launching crew and cargo to the International Space Station (fortunately), but sending robotic probes out into deep space? Two words: Fobos-Grunt (which didn't even make it past Earth orbit). Heck, a Russian Proton-M launch ended in failure just a few hours ago...leading to the loss of two telecommunication satellites! Good grief. That is all.

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