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Landing Curiosity on Mars was Way Harder and Way Less Expensive than the Olympics

Landing a car-sized rover on a distant planet using a sky crane is really hard, and really awesome.

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The Curiosity rover is about the size of a small car, and equipped with all sorts of scientific instrumentation. Image: NASA

At 6:14 am BST the car-sized, one-ton Curiosity Rover landed safely on the surface of Mars. This is a big deal. Over the next two years, Curiosity will putter around the red planet taking samples and exploring the rocky surface.

Here is one of the first images it took of the red planet. Full sized, color images will start heading Earth’s way in about a week.

And, here’s what it feels like to land a rover on Mars:

 

To relive the landing, several news organizations live blogged the touchdown, and many prominent scientists were Tweeting the whole time. Curiosity itself live tweeted its own descent.

 It has taken about 10 years to develop, build and fly Curiosity out to Mars. While it’s the fourth rover NASA has successfully put on Mars, Curiosity is far larger and more complex than any of its predecessors.

So what is Curiosity doing up there, anyway? Contrary to what you might think, it’s not looking for life itself. Instead, it’s looking for signs of habitable environments from millions of years ago. It took the little guy eight months to get to Mars, and most of the previous missions to the red planet have failed. (NASA reports that the overall success rate for landings on Mars is only 40 percent.) Here are the challenges to getting there:

So what does this all mean for NASA? In recent years, their funding has been cut dramatically while voter support has dwindled, especially in red states. Tech Crunch wonders whether the successful landing of curiosity might be able to change that, as they watched the #fundNASA hashtag blow up on Twitter. They also point out that this year’s summer Olympics cost five times more than getting Curiosity on Mars.

Image: xkcd

 

More at Smithsonian.com:

Mars Day!

Life on Mars?

Take Flight Over Mars

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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