Touchdown confirmed - Mars rover lands
Updated: 21:57, Monday August 6, 2012
NASA’s 2.40 billion dollar dream machine, the Mars Science Laboratory, has landed on the red planet.
Cheers rang out at a major deep space communications centre near Canberra when the touchdown of the NASA rover Curiosity on the surface of Mars was confirmed.
The Deep Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbulla, about 40km from the national capital, played an integral role in communicating with Curiosity during the descent on Monday AEST.
The rover took about seven minutes from when it entered the Martian atmosphere until it hit the surface about 3.33pm (AEST)
Because of the immense distance involved, radio signals confirming the landing took 14 minutes to reach the Earth.
‘By the time we receive the first signals here to say that we’ve entered the atmosphere of Mars, the spacecraft has been on the surface, alive or dead, for at least seven minutes,’ complex spokesman Glen Nagle told AAP.
The landing looked spectacular but it was also very difficult.
The spacecraft plummeted through the atmosphere at 21,000km/h, before a parachute and then a rocket pack helped lower it to the surface.
‘All of these individual moments have been done before ... but never in one vehicle,’ Mr Nagle said.
‘It just adds to the overall complexity of what is already a very complex mission.’
Almost 200 people crammed into the Tidbinbilla tracking station’s visitor centre to watch a live stream of the event from the NASA command centre in California.
They included former CSIRO scientists Hamish Lindsay and Terry Lloyd, who were involved in tracking the Apollo 11 moon landing.
The Tidbinbilla station has been involved in following Curiosity’s journey since it was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on November 26, 2011.
Its 107-strong team of Australian scientists and engineers will have continuing involvement in taking to Curiosity throughout its mission.
That’s expected to last at least 23 months.
The rover will travel about 20km, including climbing a 5km mountain in a crater near the landing site.
‘They tell geologists more of the story of Mars, how it changed from a warm wet planet with rivers, lakes and oceans to a cold, dry desert world today,’ Mr Nagle said.
Curiosity will also search for carbon compounds that could indicate life on Mars.
‘We’re not looking for life but the possibility of it,’ Mr Nagle said.
‘If life is ever detected somewhere as close as Mars it could mean life is everywhere throughout the universe.’
The mission has cost $US2.6 billion ($A2.47 billion).
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