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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.
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.
More at Smithsonian.com: