After the “seven minutes of terror”, Curiosity, NASA’s rover, landed safely on planet Mars, thus starting its mission of uncovering life sources on the Red Planet.
Curiosity’s journey was meticulously prepared by the NASA scientists. Of it all, the landing process, involving the largest supersonic parachute ever created and a sky crane, was the one giving the most anxiety to scientists. This is why the process was dubbed “seven minutes of terror”. The method applied to Curiosity’s landing was innovative.
The giant airbags NASA had previously used for other space landings could not fit the rover. In addition to that, its landing required high precision. “We’re going to a place on Mars called Gale Crater and we’re landing quite literally between a rock and a hard place” said Engineer Adam Steltzner, who was in charge with the Entry, Descent and Landing phase of the mission.
Curiosity was nestled inside a protective shell and entered the atmosphere of the planet at thirteen thousand miles per hour, shedding energy as it fell.
Curiosity, which has sophisticated software and tools to explore Mars, will be controlled from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. It is able to provide a huge number of images (featuring 17 cameras), to inspect rocks and soil and analyze all types of terrain samples. Its main purpose is “to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms”, but scientists are not hoping for something in particular. “The attitude is: ‘Let’s go to an interesting place with good tools and find out what’s there”, said NASA.