Mars Rover landing is an engineering miracle

Early on Monday morning the Mars Rover successfully set down on the Martian landscape. This historic moment was overseen by a tense room of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineers and watched by so many people here on Earth that all of NASA’s websites crashed.

Mission control engineers at the JPL near Los Angeles erupted in cheers when confirmation was received that Curiosity (the Mars Rover), touted as the first full-fledged mobile science lab sent to a distant world, had landed on the Martian surface.

NASA engineers said the feat stands as the most challenging and elaborate achievement in the history of robotic spaceflight, and will open the door to a new era in planetary exploration.

Engineering

Software Engineering technologies provide the computing and commands necessary to operate the spacecraft and its subsystems. Without it, this historic moment would not have been achievable.

But thanks to great engineering, Curiosity's landing was as close to perfection as an eight-month journey through space can produce.
In interviews with The Times newspaper, engineers said initial reviews of Curiosity's final minutes in flight revealed a startling fact: The landing ran into fewer problems than any of the hundreds of simulations they had run over the last two years.

"It was cleaner than any of our tests," said Al Chen, a JPL engineer and member of the mission's landing team, shaking his head with amazement. "It was a blast."

Since landing on the red planet, Curiosity has returned black and white images that capture part of its own body, its shadow on the ground and views off to the Martian horizon.

Life on Mars

Curiosity’s mission is to go to the base of a 5.5km high mountain close to where it landed and to find rocks that were laid down billions of years ago in the presence of liquid water.

Curiosity will probe these sediments for evidence that past environments on Mars could once have favoured microbial life.
Since landing engineers have been busy running through a list of health checks and equipment tests in order to ensure that the mission stays on course.

These have included deploying a high-gain antenna to provide a data link to Earth additional to the UHF satellite relays it uses most of the time. This antenna failed to point correctly at first, but the problem has now been fixed.

Scientists have high hopes for the potential discoveries Curiosity could make on Mars. Still Curiosity will not be flexing its robotic arm or taking its first drive for several weeks.

Curiosity’s successful landing is just the beginning, it’s has opened the door to a number of new possibilities for man to explore and it has put engineering back on the mainstream.

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