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The successful entry, descent, and landing of the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity was a thrilling event to watch Sunday night and Monday morning. I want to personally thank all of the kossacks who joined palantir and I as we monitored the progress in our live blog. We had a wonderful time setting that up and interacting with the excited and nervous attendees. In just a few minutes, emotions ran from suspense and worry to unbridled joy and happiness. With each milestone event during descent, the control room reacted. Touchdown created an eruption of relief.

This 2 minute video from NASA sums it up. I relive my own emotions as I watch it.

Today, I want to share a few more details about the success of the landing phase. You might have seen some of these graphics and images already. But, for those who have not, I hope these will further impress you with how well this mission has been executed so far.

Join me below the Mars transfer orbit to insert yourself into the rest of the diary.

What you are looking at below is the parachute descent of Curiosity as viewed from the passing craft Mars Recconnaisance Orbiter. The imaging system HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) operated by the University of Arizona captured Curiosity during the brief descent by parachute.

An image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance orbiter captured the Curiosity rover still connected to its 51-foot-wide (almost 16 meter) parachute as it descended towards its landing site at Gale Crater.

"If HiRISE took the image one second before or one second after, we probably would be looking at an empty Martian landscape," said Sarah Milkovich, HiRISE investigation scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "When you consider that we have been working on this sequence since March and had to upload commands to the spacecraft about 72 hours prior to the image being taken, you begin to realize how challenging this picture was to obtain."

The image was taken while MRO was 211 miles (340 kilometers) away from the parachuting rover. Curiosity and its rocket-propelled backpack, contained within the conical-shaped back shell, had yet to be deployed. At the time, Curiosity was about two miles (three kilometers) above the Martian surface.

Curiosity On Parachute Viewed By MRO

This is the target for Curiosity seen obliquely looking toward Gale Crater. It is an ellipse approximately 5 x 10 miles in size. The craft was on a trajectory that proved to be quite accurate. The course corrections TCM-5 and TCM-6 were built into the timeline. But, neither were needed. For a short time during the passage through the thin atmosphere of Mars, small thrusters were able to gently steer the capsule containing Curiosity and refine the landing within the targeted area.
Landing Ellipse Target Area

As a result of the precision guidance, the actual landing site marked by the green diamond is very near the center of the ellipse in this overhead view. It missed the center by about 2 miles. That is an impressive result when you consider the multiple phases of the entry, descent, and landing and that the craft entered the atmosphere at about 13,000 mph.

Everyone was eager for an image of the landing viewed by Curiosity. Below is the first one transmitted.
It was taken through a "fisheye" wide-angle lens on the left "eye" of a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance cameras on the left-rear side of the rover. The clear dust cover on the camera is still on in this view, and dust can be seen around its edge, along with three cover fasteners.
Rear Left Hazard Camera View With Dust Cover

Soon after the first image, the dust cover was flipped out of the way for a second image shown below with some labels.
The image shows a fin on the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (the rover's power source), the rear left wheel and a spring that released the dust cover on the Hazard-Avoidance camera. Part of the rim of Gale Crater, which is a feature the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, can be seen at the upper right of the image.

The rover's early engineering images are lower resolution. Larger color images from other cameras are expected later in the week when the rover's mast, carrying high-resolution cameras, is deployed.

Without Dust Cover

Everyone loves to see movies of things like this. Wouldn't it be great to have a movie of the descent of Curiosity to the surface? The engineers have provided one for you.
Just hours after NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars, a select group of images taken by the onboard Mars Descent Imager, or MARDI, were beamed back to Earth. The 297 color, low-resolution images, provide a glimpse of the rover's descent into Gale Crater. They are a preview of the approximately 1,504 images of descent currently held in the rover's onboard memory. When put together in highest resolution, the resulting video is expected to depict the rover's descent from the moment the entry system's heat shield is released through touchdown.

Those MARDI images downlinked so far are low-resolution thumbnails, 192 by 144 pixels. In the months ahead, as communications between rover and Earth become more robust, full-frame images 1,600 by 1,200 pixels in size, are expected to provide the most complete and dramatic imagery of a planetary landing in the history of exploration.

Much more is to come in the days and weeks ahead. Please stay tuned and watch for diaries presenting the highlights and significant findings. This will be an exciting rover to watch. It joins Opportunity still operating after more that 3000 Martian days and more than 21 miles on the odometer.

Originally posted to SciTech on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 08:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by J Town, Kossacks on Mars, and Astro Kos.

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