Nasa’s Curiosity rover touches down on Mars

Nasa  successfully landed its $2.5-billion Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity rover on the surface of the Red Planet on Monday, marking the most ambitious attempt to reach Mars in history.

"Touchdown confirmed," said a member of mission control at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the room erupted in cheers. "We are wheels down on Mars. Oh, my God."

US President Barack Obama hailed the successful landing of the Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity rover on the surface of the Red Planet, calling it "an unprecedented feat of technology."

"The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future," Obama said on Monday morning.

A dusty image of the rover's wheel on the surface, taken from a rear camera on the vehicle, confirmed the arrival of the car-sized probe and its sophisticated toolkit designed to hunt for signs that life once existed there.

A second image arrived within seconds, showing the shadow of the rover on Mars.

Obama said the United States "made history" with the achievement.

"It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination," he said.

"And tonight's success reminds us that our preeminence – not just in space, but here on Earth – depends on continuing to invest wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research that has always made our economy the envy of the world."

Mars bars
When the landing was announced after a tense, seven minute process known as entry, descent and landing, the room filled with jubilation as chief scientists distributed Mars chocolate bars to the Nasa staff members.


However, success was anything but certain with this first-of-its-kind attempt to drop a six-wheeled chemistry lab by rocket-powered sky crane on an alien planet. NASA's more recent rover dropoffs were done with the help of airbags.

In the final moments, the spacecraft accelerated with the pull of gravity as it nears Mars' atmosphere, making a fiery entry at a speed of 21 240km/h and then slowing down with the help of a supersonic parachute.

After that, an elaborate sky crane powered by rocket blasters kicked in, and the rover was lowered down by nylon tethers, apparently landing upright on all six wheels.

Scientists do not expect Curiosity to find aliens or living creatures. Rather they hope to use it to analyze soil and rocks for signs that the building blocks of life are present and may have supported life in the past.

The project also aims to study the Martian environment to prepare for a possible human mission there in the coming years.

It has already been collecting data on radiation during its eight and a half month journey following launch in November 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Earlier on Sunday, Mars programme director Doug McCuistion called the science "absolutely crucial" to finding out if Earthlings are alone, how Mars evolved from a wet to a dry planet and how accessible Mars may be for human explorers in the future.

"It will be one of the greatest feats in planetary exploration ever," he told reporters. "Our success rate has been pretty darn good recently."

However, he cautioned that "these things are really hard to do" and admitted that "we may not be successful."

Attempts by global space agencies since 1960 have resulted in a near 40% success rate in sending landers, orbiters or other spacecraft for flybys to Mars. Nasa has the best record. – AFP

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

The recovered remain cautious

People who have survived Covid-19 are not going through life carefree. They are still taking all the preventative measures

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations

Senwes launches Agri Value Chain Food Umbrella

South African farmers can now help to feed the needy by donating part of their bumper maize crop to delivery number 418668

Ethics and internal financial controls add value to the public sector

National treasury is rolling out accounting technician training programmes to upskill those who work in its finance units in public sector accounting principles

Lessons from South Korea for Africa’s development

'Leaders can push people through, through their vision and inspiration, based on their exemplary actions'

Old Mutual announces digital AGM

An ambitious plan to create Africa’s biggest digital classroom is intended to address one of the continent’s biggest challenges — access to education

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday