NASA’s Curiosity Mar rover has successfully touched down on the surface of the red planet with the assistance of a flying crane. The nuclear-powered rover was lowered to the surface of Mars on Sunday, passing though the “seven minutes of terror” without incident and completing the most technologically challenging landing on another planet to date.
The rover’s landing was reported at 10:32 PM PDT (GMT-7), presumably somewhere withing the four by twelve mile landing area of Gale Crater.
Prior to the landing the director of Mars exploration at NASA, Doug McCuistion, said “No matter what happens, I just want the team to know I am really proud and privileged to have worked with these guys and gals. They’re amazing. They’ve done everything humanly possible to make this happen.”
Adam Steltzner, who leads the EDL team at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said:
We have three different signals we would use to confirm touchdown and we need all three of those things to look right before we say so. One of those is a message from the spacecraft that says ‘I touched down, and this is the velocity I touched down at and where I think I am.
The rover has an inertial measurement unit, a gyro and an accelerometer set, and we look at that stream to say the rover’s not moving at all, that signal says ‘I think I’m on the ground and I’m not moving.’ And the third is, we wait a safe period of time and confirm we’re getting continuous UHF (radio) transmission. And frankly, that’s there to make sure the descent stage hasn’t fallen back down on top of the rover. When all three of those signals are positive, we declare touchdown confirmation.”
All three of the signals NASA needed to confirm landing have been sent. The rover has already transmitted some images back of the surface of the planet.