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NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain

NASA’s most advanced Mars rover Curiosity has landed on the Red Planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars Sunday to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity
succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on
Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway
maneuver of the rocket backpack.

“Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for
human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover
ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will
seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on
Mars — or if the planet can sustain life in the future,” said NASA
Administrator Charles Bolden. “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. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for
sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030′s, and today’s landing marks a
significant step toward achieving this goal.”

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. PDT Aug. 5, (1:32 a.m. EDT Aug. 6) near
the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter
inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover
will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable
for microbial life.

“The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of
Triumph,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John
Grunsfeld. “My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched
only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the
mission’s team.”

Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky
ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in
the next several days as the mission blends observations of the
landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and
check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.

“Our Curiosity is talking to us from the surface of Mars,” said MSL
Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “The landing takes us past the most
hazardous moments for this project, and begins a new and exciting
mission to pursue its scientific objectives.”

Confirmation of Curiosity’s successful landing came in communications
relayed by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter and received by the Canberra,
Australia, antenna station of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Curiosity 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. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the
end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock
interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical
laboratory instruments inside the rover.

To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five
times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site
places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater’s
interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and
sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate
in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at
JPL.

For more information on the mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mars

and

http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl

Follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity

and

http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity

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