Curiosity makes flawless touchdown on Mars

The first two pictures taken on Mars by the fisheye lenses on the Curiosity Rover Hazcams. Both show splotches of dust kicked up during the landing. The left image shows the shadow of the rover; one of its wheels is seen in the right photo at lower right. Credit: NASA-TV

Unbelievable. I just finished watching the landing on NASA-TV and I’m brimming with pride over the space agency’s magnificent accomplishment. We did it … again! The entire landing, from the moment when the cruise shell separated to parachute deployment and the final, rocket-powered descent via sky crane – flawless.

Mission controllers break into hugs at news of the safe touchdown of Curiosity at 12:39 a.m. (CDT) Monday. The joy was incredible … and catching. Credit: NASA-TV

NASA was able to get the orbiting Mars Odyssey craft into position to receive data from Curiosity almost immediately after touchdown. It couldn’t have been more than a minute or two after touchdown when the first picture was beamed over the big monitor at the Jet Propulsion Lab. As expected these were low resolution, black and white image taken by the small Hazard-Avoidance cameras mounted on the rover’s platform, but oh, how sweet they were!

The pictures show that the rover rests on nearly level ground strongly resembling my gravel driveway.  Open, flat terrain is exactly what the mission’s planners hoped for. The fewer rocks, the safer the landing. It also means they can deploy the mast, which holds the high-resolution cameras, on schedule. We should see color pix from those later this week. I managed to grab a few screen shots of the scene I hope you’ll enjoy! To see the latest images arriving from the rover, click HERE.

Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) are shown at the time Curiosity, also called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), was landing. Credit: NASA-TV

While Odyssey received data and photos from Curiosity and sent them on to Earth, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter got in for an even closer view to photograph the rover as it descended by parachute and sky crane. We should see those photos soon.

With the first picture of Mars taken by Curiosity in the background, mission controllers high-five and hug in celebration Monday morning. Credit: NASA-TV

A later, higher-resolution image from Curiosity after the clear dust cover protecting the lens was jettisoned. Part of the spring that released the cover is at lower right. At upper right, foothills or mountains are seen. Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

JPL mission controllers break out jars of peanuts shortly before the landing. It’s a tradition before critical mission events that started with the first successful Ranger mission to the moon in the 1960s. A JPL staffer was eating peanuts at the time, so the staff figured the peanuts brought good luck. Credit: NASA-TV

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

9 thoughts on “Curiosity makes flawless touchdown on Mars

  1. i’ve been watching it on the NASA Ustream channel, and the raw tears and emotion every step of the way by everyone in that room just shows how big this is. Absolutely awesome!!

      • Fantastic, isn’t it? Looking forward to a year of great discoveries and excellent pictures.

        Can you explain, Bob, how they got the first pictures so quickly? I was under the impression it would be at least 14 minutes, from what I’d read earlier.

        • Carol,
          The 14 minute delay was built into the whole landing sequence and data (picture) delivery. In other words, Curiosity had already landed – if you could have been there in person – about the time mission controllers reported it separating from the cruising shell before entering Mars’ atmosphere. Everything, including picture-sending, was delayed by 14 minutes.

          • Carol,
            I guess you could say it was as live as it could be. Wait until we fly to Alpha Centauri – the future astronauts will already have been orbiting the star 4 1/2 years when we finally get word they’ve arrived!

  2. Hi Bob,
    I am dragging this morning at work – I had to stay up and see if Curiosity made a successful landing. I really feel this was/is a crossroads for this country’s commitment to space exploration. I can’t wait for high resolution images and future testing for organic molecules.

    What is the potential time-frame for the plutonium-based electrical system to last? I know the specific mission is 2 earth years. If funding is available, how long can the rover really keep going?


    • Timothy,
      I know how you feel. I finally got to bed after 2 with my brain still going. The plutonium can power the electrical system for a minimum of 14 years. Long live Curiosity!

  3. …after 2? bah… try after 4! Bleary, but a happy delirium.
    Any life we find may not be as adorable as Uncle Martin ;) but we’ll take what we can get.
    VERY long life for Curiosity!

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