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Curiosity survives 'seven minutes of terror' to land successfully on Mars

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 7th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

After some nail-biting moments from scientists here on Earth, NASA's rover Curiosity successfully landed on Mars to transmit images back to Earth. Traveling hundreds of millions of miles through space, the $2.6 billion Curiosity arrived in a sequence popularly known as the "seven minutes of terror."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The seven minutes involved a sky crane and the world's largest supersonic parachute, allowed the spacecraft carrying Curiosity to target the landing area that scientists had meticulously chosen.

Mission control in California burst into cheers as the rover touched down. Members of NASA's Jet Propulsion hugged and high-fived one another as Curiosity beamed back the first pictures from Mars.

"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," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

The scientific community expressed joy and relief with the successful landing.

"Rationally I know it was supposed to work all along, but emotionally it always seemed completely crazy," James Wray, assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology says. Wray is affiliated with the science team of Curiosity. "So to see all those steps being ticked off and actually working, it's a huge relief."

The initial images the SUV-sized Images beamed back from the rover were black and white and grainy. One showed its wheel resting on the stony ground and the vehicle's shadow appeared in another. Larger color images are expected later this week.

According to NASA, the spacecraft had been traveling away from Earth since November 26 on a journey of approximately 352 million miles.

Curiosity has a full suite of sophisticated tools for exploring Mars, including 17 cameras, a laser that can survey the composition of rocks from a distance and instruments that can analyze samples from soil or rocks.

The ultimate goal of the mission is "to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms," NASA says.

The rover will first stop at Gale Crater, which may have once contained a lake. The rover will arrive at Mount Sharp in the center of the crater and then drive up the mountain examining layers of sediment. This process is like looking at a historical record because each layer represents an era of the planet's history, scientists say.

The phenomenon of sedimentary layers is remarkably similar to what is seen on Earth, in California's Death Valley or in Montana's Glacier National Park, says John Grotzinger, chief scientist of the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

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