It was a nail biting seven minutes as mission control translated to the world, step by step, the condition of the latest Mars expedition rover, while engineers stood by waiting and hoping for Curiosity’s successful landing. Despite NASA’s use of a new landing technology, we knew that the mission was an overwhelming success when mission control burst into applause.
The checklist for the landing included “munching” on peanuts — yes, peanuts. Eating peanuts has been a tradition for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory during landing or orbital insertions. The ritual began in July, 1964, when peanuts were handed out during the seventh attempt at the Ranger missions to the moon, launched to capture images of the surface of the moon before impacting the moon’s surface. The mission was finally a success.
With or without the help of a little superstition, at 10:39 PM PST / 1:39 AM EST, Curiosity touched down safely on Mars, in the Gale Crater. Minutes later, the rover relayed back to mission control its first images snapped on the surface of the Red Planet. The picture on the left is an image of the shadow from the front of the rover, while the image on the right clearly shows Curiosity’s rear wheels with the Mars horizon in the background.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden took to the podium post-landing to announce Curiosity’s successful landing, and reiterated the complicated nature of the landing. According to Bolden, the odds of success, including previous missions to Mars, has been approximately 40 percent.
Thus far, there have been four landings and six successful missions. Curiosity is a concerted effort with seven other nations, including France, Germany, Denmark, who helped with this endeavor. Curiosity landed with 140 kilos (out of 400 kilos) of fuel left, and will spend at the minimum of two years on the surface to collect data using its onboard laboratory to determine whether current conditions of the planet indicate whether life may have once lived on Mars — or, if we’re lucky, currently exists on the Martian planet.