Graphics, Mars photos by NASA. Earth photos by Susan Karlin.
Model Curiosity
Rover tent

JPL provided a tent filled with replicas of all the Mars rovers as a backdrop for on-camera interviews.

Interview prep

French documentarian Frederic Castel prepares for an on-camera interview with John Grotzinger, chief scientist of the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

Who's zoomin' who?

Science press became both chronicler and story subject.

Good luck charm

Peanuts graced tables around the newsroom and mission control. The tradition began in 1964, when – after many attempts - Ranger 7 became the first U.S. space probe to successfully transmit lunar surface images back to Earth. Someone noticed an engineer had been eating peanuts at the time, so they were deemed good luck for all future launches and landings.

Rover Game

Popular Science’s Rebecca Boyle tries out the just-released NASA/Microsoft’s Curiosity Mars, which enables players to drive a rover through body motions. The game comes free on the XBoxLive dashboard.

Celebrity parade

Several celebrity space enthusiasts made appearances. Here, Robot Chicken creator/executive producer Seth Green jokes with Brandon Fibbs of Morgan Freeman’s Revelations Entertainment.

Lt. Uhura herself

Star Trek grande dame Nichelle Nichols holds court.

Lost in Space's June Lockhart

Star Trek grande dame Nichelle Nichols holds court.

Victory!

Pandemonium erupts in mission control…

...and the press room

Pandemonium erupts in mission control…

Relief!

A very, very relieved Allen Chen led Curiosity’s entry, descent and landing team, and called the play-by-play of the "seven minutes of terror."

Minutes later...a first image

Mission control specialists cheer when a fuzzy thumbnail first image of the rover wheel beams in. Mission control images streamed on monitors around the pressroom.

Post Landing High-Fives

Flanked by an enlarged view of Curiosity’s first image, team leaders high five each other before the post-landing press conference.

Two hours later...a second image

A higher resolution shot taken by one of Curiosity’s rear-left Hazard Avoidance Cameras. It features a gravel foreground, while the horizon is the rim of Gale Crater. Where does the gravel come from? The first of many questions to come…

A forest of satellite trucks

The parking lot abounds with news vans.

Co.Create

The Mars rover has landed! Scenes From The "Oscars For Geeks"

That crazy landing idea worked, capturing the attention of the world, and inspiring a new generation of young space enthusiasts. Now, it’s onward to two years of learning how Mars formed and whether life once existed there.

In NASA’s most daring and complex extra-planetary landing, Curiosity touched down on Mars’ Gale Crater early this morning at 1:32 am (ET).

The harrowing seven minutes that brought Curiosity from an atmospheric entry of 13,000 mph to a soft standstill involved a seemingly impossible feat of engineering involving computerized guided flight, parachute deployment and slowing the craft doing supersonic speeds, retrorocket descent, and, in the final 65 feet, a sky-crane lowering of Curiosity to the ground.

The successful landing of the Mars Science Laboratory brought an eruption of whoops, hollers, and applause from the more than 400 journalists from around the world and roughly 30 mission control specialists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. Within minutes, the first images of Mars taken by Curiosity came in, to more applause.

“I can only think of the Olympics,” said a jubilant JPL director Charles Elachi during the ensuing press conference. “Our team went to the Olympics and we weren’t sure they were going to win. But this team came back with the gold.

“This [$2.5 billion] 'movie’ cost less than $7 per American citizen and look at the excitement it produced,” he added. “Tomorrow, we are going to start exploring Mars. Next week will bring new discoveries and we continue to explore the solar system and universe, because our curiosity knows no bounds.”

The Curiosity team raises its hands in victory.

Now what?

The spectacular landing paves the way for at least two years of gathering scientific information about Mars’ formation and whether it once contained life. Moreover, it rejuvenates American pride in a space program that has undergone increasing criticism. Had the landing been unsuccessful, mission leaders stressed that the program has already gleaned a tremendous amount of new technology for industry, and the Mars program would have continued.

“Many say NASA has lost its moxie, but look at what we were able to achieve,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator, and a former astronaut. “And the rover was made in the U.S. We’re getting ready to transition to the ground. The Curiosity story is just beginning.”

Finally, it may inspire a new generation of young people to pursue careers in science and engineering, in similar fashion to the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing. Public interest in Curiosity was so high that NASA’s 7 Minutes of Terror video covering the landing attracted two million hits, and the live webcast crashed the NASA server.

Curiosity will begin its exploration in a couple of weeks, first in the surrounding Gale Crater area, then slowly over the next year, to the base of Mount Sharp.

Flight systems manager Richard Cook wasn’t so sure it would be that fast. “It’ll be like a family vacation--with 200 scientists all wanting to stop and look at every little fossilized piece…”

NASA’s associate administrator for education and former astronaut Leland Melvin with Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am at a press conference to encourage science education

Oscars for Geeks

But that was the culmination of the night. In the hours leading up to the landing, a quirky mixture of scientists, engineers, and celebrity space enthusiasts--Family Guy's Seth Green, Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols, and Lost in Space's June Lockhart, among others--mixed in the newsroom. Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am made a plea for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education programs, while Morgan Freeman was rumored to be safely ensconced in mission control.

The festive atmosphere grew good-naturedly boisterous as the evening progressed. During their press conference, a reporter asked will.i.am and former astronaut Leland Melvin who they were wearing.

Melvin teased back. "Fruit of the Loom."

Click on the slideshow for a look at the event as it unfolded from Sunday afternoon to the wee hours of Monday morning.

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1 Comments

  • Mike Meyer

    The 'Seven Minutes of Terror' video was instrumental in stirring up interest in the mission.  Cutting-edge computer graphics and use of Realty TV editing techniques really sold the level of technical risk in the project and turned it from boring clinical science into a display of badassery.  NASA's PR folks were operating at as high a level this time around as the technical crew.