Australia has played a key role in the landing on Mars early today with the head of NASA recognising the contributions of Canberra, Australia, and claiming all countries involved are now on Mars.
At a press conference this afternoon, the head of NASA praised the work done in Canberra for tracking the final landing. He also noted three other countries assisted with the mission, but chose not to name them.
The $2.5 billion robotic explorer travelled 352 million miles for more than 8 months, only to endure the hardest part of its journey in the last seven minutes. Described as “seven minutes of terror,” the 1 tonne rover sliced through Mars’ thin atmosphere at 21,240km/h.
To slow the rover down for a safe landing, The Australian claims NASA used a supersonic parachute and an elaborate sky crane powered by rocket blasters. Once it kicked in, the crane lowered the rover down by nylon tethers for a six wheel upright landing.
“Touchdown confirmed” said a member of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The room then erupted in cheers.
“We are wheels down on Mars. Oh, my God.”
Minutes after landing two images were relayed back to earth; one depicting Curiosity’s wheel on Mars’ red surface and another capturing its shadow.
“It was a great drama that was played,” said one of the engineers on NASA’s media conference Panel. “The team brought us victory today.”
NASA scientists don’t expect to find life on Mars, but they do hope to find signs of microbial life over the next two years of exploration.
“If we succeed, it will be one of the greatest feats in planetary exploration ever,” said Mars’ program director, Doug McCuistion to reporters. “Our success rate has been pretty darn good recently.”
President Obama aims to have humans touch down on Mars by 2030. In order to determine if it is safe to do so, Curiosity has been tracking radiation levels throughout its journey.
Although a $2.5 billion project, NASA engineers are calling the program a bargain at just $7 per American citizen, when compared to the inflated price of going to the movies.