To go from hypersonic space capsule to naked, wheels-down rover, the vehicle, due to its unprecedented bulk, had to undergo multiple reconfigurationsâ€”each a potential mission killer.
And yet, the landing “was fantastic,” said mechanical-systems engineer Tommaso Rivellini, who helped design the Mars landing procedure.
“From what we can tell right now, it looks like a textbook landing,” said Rivellini, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, where news of the landing was met with cheers, tears, and high fives.
First Pictures From Mars Rover
In a welcome bonus, within two or three minutes the rover had sent back two tiny black-and-white pictures, one showing a wheel safely on Mars, the other showing Curiosity’s shadow, elongated by low-angle Martian sunlight.
There had been no guarantee the rover would be able to snap the photos fast enough to relay them to Earth via the Mars-orbiting Odyssey spacecraft. The orbiter was expected to be in range of Curiosityâ€”aka the Mars Science Laboratoryâ€”for mere minutes during the landing.