Humans send their Curiosity to Mars!

By Phil Plait | August 6, 2012 1:22 am

At 05:31 UTC, on August 6, 2012 – right on schedule, and right on target, after a 560 million kilometer voyage across space – the Mars Science Laboratory, affectionately named Curiosity, touched down on Mars.

In an amazing display of engineering, the incredibly complex and difficult Martian atmospheric entry apparently went without a hitch. The heat shield worked perfectly, the parachutes deployed, the rockets fired, the skycrane lowered the rover, and after eight months in space after launch, the rover set wheels down on the Red Planet.

And within minutes, we got pictures! This was one of the first received from the rover:

WOW! This image is from the Hazard Avoidance Camera, and is actually pretty low res, but still. The camera has a clear protective cover on it to keep out dust blown up when the rover set down, and you can see some dust has stuck to it, muddying the picture (the cover will be ejected soon and we’ll get clearer pictures). But even through the schmutz you can see the landscape, mostly smooth with small rocks nearby. You can also see one of the rover’s wheels on the bottom.

Even more dramatic is this one:

Awwwwww, yeah. That would be the shadow of the newest citizen of Mars right there.

What an amazing thing, to watch this whole landing unfold live before our eyes. I was in a live video hangout with Fraser Cain, Pamela Gay, Amy Shira Teitel, Ian O’Neill, Dave Mosher, and many others, and when the final minutes drew near, the tension in the control room at JPL was palpable. I’m not sure how many nail-biting space events I’ve sat through, but they never get old, and they never get easier.

And how did we find out Curiosity was down? When we heard the control room people erupt into cheers through Amy’s live feed (and also by the look on Amy’s face).

My profound and sincere congratulations and thanks to NASA, to JPL, and to the hundreds of men and women who have spent years working on this one-ton, three meter-long mobile interplanetary chemistry lab!

… but after all that tension, all those incredibly complex maneuvers, and all that celebration, remember this: the adventure for Curiosity has just begun. It will now explore the environment of Gale crater, a 150 kilometer-wide impact site on Mars. It will examine the rocks, studying their composition and their history, adding to our understanding of how Mars has changed over the eons. Where did its water go? What was the surface like billions of years ago? And of course, the biggie: was the surface of Mars, one of our nearest neighbors in space, ever habitable?

All that is to come over the rover’s two (Earth) year mission. For now, it’s OK to sit back and soak up the fact that we humans flung a bit of ourselves across the solar system. We reached across space, and did something amazing.

And I certainly can’t put it any better than Curiosity itself did:

Welcome to Mars, kiddo. You’ll do well there.

Image credits: NASA/JPL. The first image was posted on reddit; the second was from a screengrab by Jason Major. Note: NASA will be posting the raw images from the rover as they come in on the Mars JPL website.

Related Posts:

Watch the Curiosity hangout here!
Wil Wheaton has Curiosity
Helping save the planetary space program
Why explore space?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures, Science

Comments (55)

  1. Chris

    What an amazing feat!

  2. Max Tsukino

    watched this in Mexico City, on my computer hooked on a plasma TV thing, so it was in glorious HD…

    it’s bleeping awesome to live in the bleeping future… =)

  3. Cz-David

    What a huge accomplishment. I was tearing up watching the huge excitement of the EDL team. Congratulations to all involved.

  4. Wheels and shadows upon the sands of Mars and such joy to see on Earth at mission control and elsewhere. (Raised beer salute.)

    Curiosity has triumphed over terror and shall soon be satisfying us even more as its journey has just begun – as the BA has noted.

    Meanwhile eight years on and Opportunity is still rolling too. We’re back to two Mars Exploration Rovers again albeit different models.

    Congratulations again to all those involved. Cheers for the ride NASA-TV.

    Science it rocks. 😀

    PS. Good post up with thoughts / feelings on this from FTB-blogger Jen McCreight too linked to my name here.

  5. Humanity can be so brilliant. I was watching the livestream on I knew all was going to be well when I heard “we’re in powered flight”.

  6. César

    thank you so much, phil, and everyone else in the hangout. your commentary and insight were the best part of this whole ordeal.

  7. Brian

    And I’ll probably be using several times tomorrow.

  8. Jason B

    Thanks again for that google hang out!
    How luck we are this day in age to not only witness something as amazing and historically significant instantly, at the same time as those involved, but at the same time to have the opportunity to have so much explained to us at the same time by experts like yourself, thanks to the internet.
    I wonder what Carl Sagan would thing about all this.
    No, that’s i lie. He would love every minute of it.

  9. kat wagner

    Just look at that photo, will ya? Opportunity has a big brother on planet Mars and he looks like one big mofo that’s gonna bring it.

  10. MadScientist

    Waal, obviously it’s a guv’mint conspiracy – the shadows are all rong and all – and what about that flag?

    Great work by everyone involved. When you work for so many years without really seeing anything working and then you launch your work into space to land on another planet, it’s always great to know it got there and your work is all worthwhile.

  11. Sarah

    Excellent! I held my breath to the very last minute, daring not to hope.

    I do wonder, however, if anyone here knows about the bandwidth to Earth from Curiosity. I also wonder, where is the imagery from MARDI stored? In the rover itself? It must be quite a lot of data, will it take years to even get it to Earth?

  12. magetoo

    What César said, thanks to everyone in the hangout for some great commentary. And congratulations NASA and JPL!

    At 05:31 UTC, on August 6, 2012 … the Mars Science Laboratory, affectionately named Curiosity, touched down on Mars.

    This was a point of confusion between me and my friend who I was watching with. Surely it touched down at 05:17? I kept insisting – no, no, it is supposed to touch down at 05:31, and we have to wait another 14 minutes for confirmation – but then everyone at JPL erupted in cheers, and the first image came in, way ahead of schedule for me, but right on the mark for data coming in at 05:31..

  13. Good interview & summary info here :

    Scroll down folks – the one with Dr Charley Lineweaver. Funny. :-)

  14. Muz

    I have to admit I wondered just how feasible this landing was and admit to a certain level of scepticism. BUT… this is just freakin awesome, I haven’t been this excited about space exploration since I watched the Apollo 11 LM land on the moon as a 9 year old!. America, the world is proud of you, take a bow.

  15. Bad Wolf

    NASA occasionally blows it, and loses a probe, but when the get it right, they tend to get it VERY right. (Opportunity is STILL operative after what, 6 years, when it was only supposed to last 30 days???)

  16. Huzzah! I love our space robots!

  17. Alexf

    The peanuts worked!

  18. Riftmann

    I was a bit skeptical everything would go right with all the rube goldberg stuff too, but I stayed up to watch NASA-TV last night, and I’m just in awe. I haven’t really felt like this since I was six when we landed Eagle on the moon… A lot of people have been voicing the same feeling.

    But, sigh, I’ve also have all ready ran into the “1.5 billion dollars for pretty pictures that look like arizona?” train of thought. ugh. They think we shoot a billion dollars into space for nothing.

    That billion and a half dollars was spent on jobs here on earth, supporting families, was NOT outsourced to Mars. grumble grumble.

    When we have one data point (the earth) it’s hard to make any predictions. The future of humanity and the earth depend on our study of other planets.

    So this is flippin’ AWESOME!!!

    And Curiosity spots the landing for the GOLD!

  19. Here in the UK, the landing got a literally one-minute mention on the BBC breakfast news, between Olympics trivia.
    I suppose we have to be thankful that it even got that much!

  20. kennypo65

    All I can say is WAHOO! This is so incredibly cool! I’m so excited I could plotz! I can hardly wait for this thing to start its mission and see what new discoveries await us.

  21. BryanD

    Wow, score one for Rube Goldberg.

  22. David

    Congrats USA from the rest of the world and thank you.

    But when can we expect to see results (pos or neg) from experiments? Is there any data that will come in soon or do we have to wait months for some hard evidence, life or otherwise, water or otherwise?

  23. FMCH

    @BA, is this the first ever tweet from another planet? Ok, I know it’s probably someone from JBL, but still cool to think about.

  24. Hi, I made a color version of the first good quality image. I was pretty much just playing with it, but perhaps some of you might want to see it anyway. It can be found here:

  25. tmac57

    Curiosity tweets from another world and it is NSFW
    (Rovers today,they have no manners!) 😉
    Awesome job NASA !

  26. Levi in NY

    We now have a clearer picture, without the dust cover!

  27. Scottynuke

    I’ll excuse Curiosity’s verbal faux pas, tmac — I mean, the darn thing was hibernating for a few months, then was roughly jostled awake by a chute, retrorockets and a crane, fer cryin’ out loud! :-)

    I wonder if the rover’s legs recorded the force of impact, and just how “lightly” did it touch down?

  28. Neil @17 I was disappointed with the poor journalism and coverage by the BBC. The story has already disappeared from their news front page. It also dawned on me what a load of dupes we are in the UK. The Olympics cost £9billion to stage, or $12.5billion approximately. Five times the cost of building and putting Curiosity on Mars. We pay about the equivalent of $200 per year per household to the BBC just for a licence to watch to the infantile muck they pump out. America has a priceless national asset now and the UK has a pile of worthless white elephants.


  29. @14. Bad Wolf August 6th, 2012 at 3:35 am asked :

    (Opportunity is STILL operative after what, 6 years, when it was only supposed to last 30 days???)

    From the NASA website linked to my name (marsrovers-dot-jpl-dot-nasa-dot newsroom press release something) :

    Opportunity has been exploring the Meridiani region of Mars since landing in January 2004. It arrived at the Cape York section of the rim of Endeavour Crater in August 2011, and has been studying rock and soil targets on Cape York since then.

    So Opportunuity has survived an amazing eight earth years and five martian winters.

    The main rover’s home site also notes that Opportunity is 2,944 Sols i.e. martian days (a bit longer than earth ones) past its warranty. 😉

    Spirit only succumbed in the past year or so and thus very nearly lasted as long too.

  30. Ken

    Somehow, I’ve gotten the impression that the rover may have landed on top of a Martian feline? Because everybody says that Curiosity killed the cat. 😉

  31. Aussie ABC TV Lateline program report and interview with former astronaut & later NASA admin John Grunsfeld

    Video there but no transcript showing for me as yet.

    BBC World news has good coverage here :


    In addition this page :

    via the 80beats blog has collected the five best clips and plenty of info Curiosity ~wise just in case people missed it the last time I linked it!

    Plus the main MERS page for Spirit and Opportunity news linked to my name here in case & hope these are useful / interesting / enjoyable for y’all. :-)

  32. BigBob

    Congratulations to everybody involved. All that potential. All that science! Go and look in the clay Curiosity!

  33. alfaniner

    I thought it was extremely cool that I could be lying in bed, watching a live feed wirelessly on my Kindle Fire, and see the confirmation and first pictures literally within minutes of the landing.

  34. tmac57

    We need to come up with a new description for high tech information.”Space Age Technology” sounds pretty old hat since we have been going to space for 50 years.
    Any good candidates out their geeks? Mars age technology? Higgs age?

  35. To quote a certain Mr. H. Smith:

    “I love it when a plan comes together!”

  36. It concerns me that nobody vetted Curiosity. I don’t think she was even born on Mars. Why won’t she release her birth certificate? I’ll bet she’s gay and an illegal there to destroy good wholesome, Martian family values.

    And honestly, I’m proud NASA could make all that happen. Mars deserves it!

  37. Chris

    Love that you mentioned the look on Amy’s face: it was fantastic during the last couple of minutes, perfect picture of excitement, suspense, and finally delight. Thanks to everyone in the hangout, really enjoyed it.

  38. SMITH

    The hangout was great – thanks! Another thing that was very cool about all of this was the degree of transparancy and access that the “rest of us” got through the work you and your gang have done to help bring the public into this. ROCK!

  39. Mejilan

    As an East Coaster, I stayed up to a ridiculous hour watching the JPL live feed on my Xbox 360 (surprisingly it crushed the online webfeeds available via more traditional internet browsers).

    What an astonishing event. I cannot get over how ridiculously contrived and Hollywood-like this landing attempt was. And that it went off without a hitch is truly miraculous.

    I’m not ashamed to admit to a few man-tears once I saw JPL mission control erupt in cheers, hugs, high-fives, and more than a few tears of their own.

    A very emotional and momentous occasion. Kudos to all. And thank you. :)

  40. Donovan

    “That would be the shadow of the newest citizen of Mars right there.”

    Actually, Phil, Martian citizenship is a drawn out legal process that can decades for your typical manual rover. This rover is more qualified for the technical professions, but it will still be an ordeal before it can prove its sincere love for its new home. And then, of course, is the ever-present giaphobia in Martian society. Its lessened some since the cease fire signed by Flash Gordon and transmitted back through time along with the historical documentaries, but there are still some major holdouts, including Sarkoja in her long standing hatred of John Carter.

    Still, great job NASA and JPL! Proud to be a human.

  41. Paulino

    Well, if they sent a car over to Mars, why not go all the way and send a car wash as well! I mean, look at those dirty windows!

    I was so worried with all the complicated landing procedure, but it went down ok! Great, now let’s way for the cool pics and amazing science!

  42. Tribeca Mike

    Thanks to everyone for putting on an exciting and informative show last night, and to Phil for hosting it on his blog. Cheers.

    “The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing.” — Isaac Asimov

  43. Peter B

    Riftmann @ #16 said: “But, sigh, I’ve also have all ready ran into the “1.5 billion dollars for pretty pictures that look like arizona?” train of thought. ugh. They think we shoot a billion dollars into space for nothing. That billion and a half dollars was spent on jobs here on earth, supporting families, was NOT outsourced to Mars. grumble grumble.”

    While it’s true that the money has gone into the pockets of people here on Earth, the fact remains that what they built is now sitting on Mars. In other words, it’s not just where the money has gone, we also have to consider where the infrastructure has gone too. If this money had been spent on building schools or houses (for example), the money would again have gone into the pockets of people on Earth, but what they build would *also* have been available for ongoing use here on Earth.

    As it happens, I don’t agree with the people who make these arguments. I think space exploration is good both for itself and for what it can lead to. But the people who make these arguments deserve correct arguments in response.

  44. We started out in the Google hangout, which was cool, but there weren’t enough shots of our buddy Steve at JPL so we switched to the JPL feed.
    I so wish I was there. I so wish high school physics hadn’t kicked my butt, and I could be a rocket scientist. Maybe in another life.
    In the meantime, so glad to have Bad Astronomer here to keep an eye on these things. :)

  45. max

    This is awesome! Now… when do wee see a human landing on Mars?

  46. kat wagner

    Next in the series: Roadside Geology of Planet Mars. (yeah I’m a big rock fan).

  47. mike burkhart

    Watched it on CNN at 2:00 this morning it was great. Now I’m waiting for the results of all the tests ,it may take awhile.

  48. Messier Tidy Upper

    @32. D’oh! Had the wrong link there by mistake, sorry. :-(

    Here’s the correct one(s) :

    For the Aussie ABC TV Lateline program report and interview with former astronaut & later NASA admin John Grunsfeld. First one is the initial news coverage, second one the John Grunsfeld interview. Thought they were pretty good. For those who don’t know :

    is John Grunsfelds wiki-page.

  49. Rodolfo Granados

    It is interesting to think about the meaning of “Live” transmission of an event like the landing of Curiosity. We were all glued to the broadcast, learning of things that had happened 14 minutes earlier, but that nature had kept from us in accordance to her laws! Truly amazing.

  50. Venture Free

    Slightly off topic: I recently saw a blog post somewhere (maybe it was actually a news article?) that included an interactive “map” of the US budget as a way of showing just how small NASA’s budget is in relation to everything else. I was thinking it was this blog, but I can’t seem to find it. It was definitely a pro-science source, so I’m hoping someone else here saw it, too. Does anyone happen to know what I’m talking about?

  51. MaDeR

    “Gale crater, I am in you”? Why, oh why it sounds so dirty in my mind…


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