After traveling hundreds of millions of miles through space, NASA’s Curiosity rover finally made a challenging landing on the red planet, Mars. 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 the $2.6 billion rover 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. According to NASA, the spacecraft had been traveling away from Earth since November 26 on a journey of approximately 567 million kilometers.
The mission is aimed at answering if age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars or if the planet can sustain life in the future.
The vehicle, which will be controlled from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has a full suite of sophisticated tools for exploring Mars. They include 17 cameras, a laser that can survey the composition of rocks from a distance and instruments that can analyze samples from soil or rocks.
If all goes according to plan, Curiosity’s first stop will be Gale Crater, which may have once contained a lake. After at least a year, the rover will arrive at Mount Sharp, in the center of the crater. The rover will drive up the mountain examining layers of sediment.