Curiosity pays, Mars probed
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In a flawless, triumphant technological tour de force, a plutonium-powered rover the size of a small car was lowered at the end of 25-foot-long cables from a hovering rocket stage onto Mars early on Monday morning.
The rover, called Curiosity, ushers in a new era of exploration that could turn up evidence that the Red Planet once had the necessary ingredients for life — or might even still harbour life today.
"If anybody has been harbouring doubts about the status of US leadership in space," John P. Holdren, the president's science adviser, said at a news conference, "well, there's a one-tonne, automobile-size piece of American ingenuity, and it's sitting on the surface of Mars right now."
No other nation has yet successfully landed a spacecraft of any size on Mars. For NASA, it was the seventh success in eight chances. Curiosity is far larger than earlier rovers and is packed with the most sophisticated movable laboratory that has ever been sent to another planet.
"Touchdown confirmed," Allen Chen, an engineer in the control room, said at 11.00m am India time, followed by cheers and hugs.
Two minutes later, the first image popped onto video screens — a grainy, 64-pixel-by-64-pixel black-and-white image that showed one of the rover's wheels and the Martian horizon. A few minutes later, a clearer version appeared, and then came another image from the other side of the rover which showed its shadow.
Over the first week, Curiosity, part of a $2.5 billion Mars mission, is to deploy its main antenna, raise a mast containing cameras and take its first panoramic shot of its surroundings. The rover will not scoop its first sample of Martian soil until mid-September at the earliest.
The sky crane technique
STEP 1: ENTRY