PASADENA (CBSLA.com) — Those seven minutes of terror turned into more like 30 minutes of glee, joy and jubilation.
After NASA scientists confirmed Curiosity landed safely on Mars Sunday evening, scientists at JPL cried, hugged, high-fived each other and then cried, hugged and high-fived some more.
The usually staid scientific corps was sitting on the edge of their seats and biting nails along with a hopeful nation.
The $2.5 billion Curiosity project could have literally crashed and burned. And no where were they feeling the pressure more than at JPL.
The Curiosity rover landed on Mars at 10:32 p.m. Sunday culminating an 8 1/2-month journey.
Engineers with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory coined the descent “Seven Minutes of Terror” because the spacecraft had to decelerate from a speed of about 13,000 mph to 1.7 mph. The descent alone could have been catastrophic for the spacecraft. It was later renamed “Seven Minutes of Triumph.”
Due to the delayed communications across 350 million miles of space, it took mission controllers about 14 minutes before they knew whether the landing was successful.
Curiosity carries 10 science instruments, including a mast that extends seven feet above ground with cameras.
Experts say the “Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA mission ever attempted in the history of robotic planetary exploration.”
“The landing system for Curiosity is pretty amazing. It’s the biggest vehicle we’ve ever put down on the Martian surface and the heaviest so it required some new inventions,” said JPL Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada. “One of those new inventions was the ability to fly the Rover down on sort of a rocket jet pack the last few miles through the surface.”
“The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
The Rover will spend two years roaming the planet in search of signs of life.