NASA's 'Curiosity' lands on Red Planet

2-year investigation aims to find if life ever existed on Mars

September 1, 2012

curiosity

If it took you eight months to get to your destination 352 million miles away, what would be the first thing you’d do on arrival? For NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, the answer was to take a picture.

The one-ton rover touched down on Mars in early August to begin its investigation of the Red Planet. But one of the first things Curiosity did was to take a picture, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover.

“This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030s, and today’s landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal.”

Curiosity landed at 1:32 a.m. EDT Aug. 6 near the foot of a mountain 3 miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year and $2.5 billion mission, the rover will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.

The rover carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance.

With the most dangerous part of the mission behind—the landing that engineers dubbed the “seven minutes of terror” since Curiosity needed to slow from 13,000 mph to a complete stop to land without crashing—NASA engineers first configured the rover for work before starting the mission. Follow Curiosity and its progress on Facebook and Twitter.