It appears that, in the American public’s mind, science won a small victory last night. NASA’s $2.5 billion gamble — the 1-ton mobile science lab called Curiosity — completed its nearly nine-month journey from Earth and landed safely on the surface of Mars.
Years of planning and a very innovative, but daring, landing technique appeared to work flawlessly. In fact, the maneuver was about as perfect as scientists and engineers could hope for. Curiosity landed on time exactly (10:31 PM at JPL’s mission control in Pasadena) and within a few minutes sent back its first image — a tiny thumbnail photo of the surroundings in Gale crater.
By this morning, that trickle had turned to a flood of high-resolution images that are, in a word, gorgeous. Like a child handed a way-too-heavy SLR, Curiosity started by shooting at its feet (the rover’s wheels). But, by now, we’ve been treated to a wonderful and growing gallery of images from Mars.
Others cameras onboard are capable of color photography, but they’re attached to the rover’s mast and are not yet online. Later in the week, they’re expected to start transmitting as well.
I was up last night, watching the process in real time on the internet, and it was moving. In this new era for NASA — with an extremely-curtailed human exploration program and precious little public support or understanding of what they do — it’s more important than ever to dream huge and actually deliver on your promise. Great job, everyone! Now, let’s get down to science!
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