Amazing! NASA photographs split second when Curiosity enters
And you thought quadratic equations were tough! Thanks to a remarkable combination of engineering and mathematics, a NASA satellite in orbit around Mars was able to capture this picture of the split second when Curiosity fell from the skies to its successful landing on the surface of the red planet. In the amazing photograph, the rover's parachute is fully deployed and the spacecraft is slowing from the screaming speeds of approach -- as Mars tugged on the spacecraft, it accelerated from 8,000 mph to as much as 13,200 mph -- to a gentle, 2mph plunkdown on the planet. “We’re only making one attempt on [Mars Science Laboratory] here,” Christian Schaller of NASA’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team told Universe Today prior to the event. “The plan is to capture MSL during the parachute phase of descent.”
Once calculations had been made, checked and double checked, and uploaded to the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the team could only hold its breath and hope. "We plan to eat pizza and Cheetos, watch NASA TV’s coverage of the landing, and monitor telemetry and data processing," Operations Specialist Richard Leis wrote in a blog post prior to the event. It appears they did the math correctly. Through the chute, a unique robot arm and a rocket-powered hood, the rover slowed until it drifted to a stop on Mars, to cheers and applause from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory late Sunday. "Touchdown confirmed," engineer Allen Chen said. "We're safe on Mars." Minutes after the landing signal reached Earth at 10:32 p.m. PDT, Curiosity beamed back the first black-and-white pictures from inside the crater showing its wheel and its shadow, cast by the afternoon sun. "We landed in a nice flat spot. Beautiful, really beautiful," said engineer Adam Steltzner, who led the team that devised the tricky landing routine. The rover then released a slightly higher resolution pair of pictures. “The first images are always the best to me; when you land on Mars, it’s new every time,” science systems engineer Sarah Milkovich said during a press conference Monday afternoon.
But it won't be able to release higher resolution images for a few days, the rover itself happily chirped on Twitter. "I aim to send bigger, color pictures from Mars later this week once I've got my head up and Mastcam active," it wrote. (NASA confirmed the rover's guesses during the Monday conference.) The next few steps and days for the rover will be boring ones, NASA acknowledged, as the team waits for the rover's precise location from the HiRISE satellite. In the meantime, the team will deploy an antenna that lets the rover talk directly to Earth, as well as the mast holding aloft the high-resolution imager that will allow it to take better quality images. It was NASA's seventh landing on Earth's neighbor; many other attempts by the U.S. and other countries to zip past, circle or set down on Mars have gone awry.
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