NASA's Curiosity rover lands on Mars
NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars at 10:31 p.m. Aug. 5 PDT, or about 3 p.m. local time on the red planet.
Impact speed was recorded at just 0.67 meters per second, or 1.5mph, while the sideways drift of the rover registered 0.044 meters per second, or less than 0.1mph.
"Curiosity's descent-stage retrorockets fired, guiding it to the surface," NASA confirmed in an official statement.
"Nylon cords lowered the rover to the ground in the 'sky crane' maneuver. When the spacecraft sensed touchdown, the connecting cords were severed, and the descent stage flew out of the way."
According to the space agency, the landing marks the beginning of a two-year mission to investigate one of the most intriguing places on Mars.
"We are landing in Gale crater, which is very interesting from the scientific perspective. We are landing in a very deep crater with a mountain in the center," said NASA exec Jim Montgomery.
"What's great about this is as you dig down though the surface you are digging backward in time. We are going to land back in time and slowly drive into the future looking at the history of Mars as we drive."
Montgomery also described Curiosity as a roving science laboratory.
"It's like we have our field geologist there with a really good laboratory. Past missions proved water existed on Mars in the past and that ice is on the surface now. This mission is focused on finding habitats that could have supported life," he added.
NASA Chief Scientist John Grunsfeld expressed similar sentiments.
"We're [doing] something that I think is just huge for humankind — putting this chemistry lab on the surface of Mars that can see and [will] provide scientists on Earth a glimpse into the past history of Mars... Curiosity will set us up for the day when men and women will land on the surface of Mars, and it might not be that far away."
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is expected to build on the success of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers during the past eight years.
The rovers were intended to complete a 90-day mission, but continued to operate far longer than expected. Indeed, Opportunity is still returning information from its continuing exploration.