12:41 a.m. Aug.6: Final words from happy and exhausted scientist
Geologist David Blake, creator of a $40 million tool on Curiosity that will do extensive soil analysis of the planet, was happy and tired after the successful landing. "Wow. I'm exhausted from jumping up and down," he said in a room at JPL, filled with 400 grinning scientists. "It was picture perfect. It almost seemed dreamlike."
The made-in-Mountain View device will pry out long-secret mysteries of the Red Planet. It will analyze minerals drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground. The results will reveal how the red rock formed -- critical to understanding the planet's 4 billion-year-old environment.
The foray into space is the culmination of a 22-year quest for Blake, a Los Altos resident whose schooling at Los Altos High School and Stanford University led to degrees in biological sciences, geological sciences and mineralogy.
Over the next two years, Curiosity will seek samples inside a deep crater, in canyons and up a Martian mountain higher than Mount Whitney's 14,500 feet. But nothing could be done without a successful mission. No wonder Blake marvelled at the flight and landing.
"It has landed," he beamed about the rover. "They got us here. Now its up to us to do the work that we are up there to do." Further, he said, "this is a precious resource, much more than the $2.5 billion we have spent. Things
12:37 a.m. Aug. 6: Final press conference information from NASA
NASA LANDS CAR-SIZE ROVER BESIDE MARTIAN MOUNTAIN
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- NASA's most advanced Mars rover Curiosity has landed on the Red Planet. 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 Curiosity 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.
"Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars -- or if the planet can sustain life in the future," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030's, and today's landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal." Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.
"The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph," said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld.
"My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission's team." Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in the next several days as the mission blends observations of the landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.
"Our Curiosity is talking to us from the surface of Mars," said MSL Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "The landing takes us past the most hazardous moments for this project, and begins a new and exciting mission to pursue its scientific objectives." Confirmation of Curiosity's successful landing came in communications relayed by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter and received by the Canberra, Australia, antenna station of NASA's Deep Space Network.
Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.
To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater's interior mountain.
Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.
The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.
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12:22 a.m. Aug 6: More press briefing comments
"That great things take many people working together, to make them happen, is one of the fantastic things of human existence," said a teary-eyed Steltzner. "in my life...this is, and will forever be, the greatest thing I have ever been given."
12:05 a.m. Aug. 6: Press conference
"In short, it looked extremely clean," said Adam Steltzner, the leader of the JPL team that dreamed up a new way to approach the planet. "we touched down in conditions that were on the more benign side of our expectations.
"Our navigation error was on the low side of our expectations. There was good alignment between celestial sensors. And our powered flight appears to have been excellent. We landed with 140 kilograms of fuel reserves out of 400 kilos carried in."
11:36 p.m. Aug 5: What amazing determination
"Even the longest of odds are no match for technological acumen and gutsy determination," said John P. Holdren, White House Science and Technology Advisor. "Long live American curiosity."
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, "Today the wheels of Curiosity have begun to roll. The most sophisticated rover ever built could answer the age-old question: If life existed (on Mars) or if it could sustain life in the future?" Further he said, "Our leadership is going to make this world better."
Bolden compared Curiosity's fast descent to Mars like driving from 65 mph, to zero, in 2.1 seconds.
11:09 p.m. Aug. 5: Landing successful
The successful landing will launch the most sustained human study of the planet most like Earth in our solar system.
11:03 p.m. Aug. 5: Rover sends first images
The rover, the size of a MINI Cooper, sent its very first images from the one-megapixel Hazard-Avoidance cameras, called Hazcams, attached to the body of the rover, said Alonso H. Vera, chief of the Human Systems Integration Division of NASA Ames.
Once engineers have determined that it is safe to deploy the rover's Remote Sensing Mast and its high-tech cameras, a process that may take several days, Vera says Curiosity will begin to survey its exotic surroundings.
"Once all of the critical systems have been checked out by the engineering team and the mast is deployed, the rover will image the landing site with higher-resolution cameras," according to Justin Maki of JPL.
Curiosity has 12 engineering cameras -- eight Hazcams at the front and back of the rover, and four Navigation cameras, called Navcams, at the top of the rover's "look-out" mast. All the engineering cameras acquire black-and-white pictures from left and right stereo "eyes," which are merged to provide three-dimensional information. Half of the cameras are backups, meaning there's one set for each of the rover's A- and B-side redundant computers
10:57 p.m. Aug. 5: Online traffic immobilizes NASA site
Heavy online traffic has immobilized almost all NASA websites - try this one to see photos Mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/raw
10:47 p.m. Aug. 5: Research unifies mission
While Curiosity is not equipped specifically to seek evidence of life, the unifying theme of the mission is the study of the planet's geology and chemical compounds, which contain clues essential to any life that may exist there, now or in the past.
10:45 p.m. Aug. 5: Thriller Earthlings gather
More 6,000 thrilled Earthlings gathered in the dark at NASA Ames' Shenandoah Plaza erupted into cheers and applause as Curiosity announced its arrival with a tone to computers at JPL, broadcast on giant screens to the crowd.
As the late afternoon sun rose on the frigid Martian landing site, elated and slightly amazed mission controllers reported that the nuclear-powered spacecraft had completed all its automated landing tasks — surviving a frightening entry into the planets thin atmosphere, dubbed "Seven Minutes of Terror."
10:39 p.m. Aug. 5: Thumbnail image sent back to Earth
The Within five minutes, the spacecraft streamed back a 64 x 64 thumbnail pixel image, then a 250 pixes image of dusty images from the surface - including, eventually, panoramic color shots -- showing a view of the shadow of the Curiosity rover on the surface of mars.
10:35 p.m. Aug. 5: Curiosity spacecraft streaked through the thin Martian atmosphere tonight to a safe and stunningly smooth night landing on a boulder-strewn field, ready to start the the most exhaustive science project in history of our closest cousin.
Shouts of joy went up from relieved controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the first signal arrived here at mission control about 10:31 p.m. PST, confirming that the Curiosity and its precious cargo - a complex and ambitious science lab - on board had survived a perilous descent and landed intact.
10:20 p.m. Aug 5: An estimated 6,000 Earthlings are crowded together in the dark at NASA Ames' Shenandoah Plaza, eyes fixed on two large film screens of JPL's command center, anxiously awaiting news of Mars rover Curiosity's arrival on Mars, after traveling 17,000 miles per hour for nine months.
News of its landing is estimated to arrive at 10:31 PST, 14 minutes after its actual arrival on the Red Planet, due to signal transmission delays from millions of miles.
"It is a once in a lifetime experience," said Mariam Glazer of Mountain View, bundled up in blankets, who arrived at 5 p.m. to reserve her seat.
The two giant screens - 50 by 25 feet in size - are illuminated by two 15,000 lumen bulbs, the same used at Mercado movie multiplexes.
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.