Watch Curiosity Descend onto Mars

See through Curiosity's eyes as it descends to the surface of the Red Planet.

It seems like the whole world was watching as Curiosity landed on Mars in the wee hours of Monday morning (Eastern time). Now you can see for yourself what it's like to land on the Red Planet.

The Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) was exposed once the bottom half of the aeroshell that protected Curiosity fell away during the descent. At that time the spacecraft was roughly 5 miles (8 km) up and 2½ minutes from touchdown. This reduced-resolution "flip-book" sequence shows 297 of the roughly 600 images that MARDI recorded at four per second.

At the beginning of the 1-minute-long video, Curiosity is hanging from its giant parachute and still traveling roughly 900 mph. The parachute detaches in the first few seconds of the video, then eight rockets fire, further slowing Curiosity's fall. The scenery changes first as the spacecraft swings beneath its giant canopy and then as the rockets' thrust changes the craft's orientation. You can see dust kicked up by the rockets' exhaust when the rover is about 70 feet (20 m) from the ground. About that time nylon cables (not seen, connected to the top of the rover) gently lower Curiosity to the ground.

By comparing ground features seen in the descent video with orbital imagery, MARDI principal investigator Michael Malin reports that Curiosity landed within Gale crater at 137.4417° E, 4.5895° S — not far from the center of its landing ellipse and near a long row of dark sand dunes.

Watch the final 2½ minutes of the rover's descent here:

7 thoughts on “Watch Curiosity Descend onto Mars

  1. Russ

    NASA is very serious about Mars. All of these robot missions are designed to pave the way for a manned mission. My guess is that by the early 20’s the U.S. will be making that commitment. We will have to wait until their economy is strong once again. Political will is the other necessary ingredient, and both will come with the maturing of the echo-boomer generation – a generation that does not remember the triumphs of Apollo and needs to achieve greatness for itself!

  2. Bruce

    That’s an upbeat forecast Russ. I’ve noted from your previous posts that you have a good grasp of world history, and you’ve commented on the waning of American commitment to astronomical undertakings in the past. I had thought that you were from the U.S., but your statement, ‘We will have to wait until THEIR economy is strong again’ tells me otherwise. As a U.S. citizen and a space exploration fan I’m happy that some of my hard earned tax dollars went into the pot that funded this 2.5 billion dollar mission, and I’m glad that the rest of the world is able to enjoy the results too, but the cost of inter-planetary manned missions will be staggering to any single nation, no matter how robust their economy. You can see that ours is anything but strong right now, and the future is questionable to stay the least. I wish for the time when these ‘giant leaps for all mankind’ will also be supported by ‘all mankind’ who can afford to help pay the bills.

  3. Anthony Barreiro

    I’m very excited about Curiosity’s successful landing, and I look forward to learning more about the evolution of Martian geology, geochemistry, and perhaps even life! I’m a big fan of robotic space exploration, but I wouldn’t support sending humans any further than Earth orbit or perhaps the Moon. Simply keeping humans alive in space and on Mars would require a huge, heavy, and expensive payload. And then, unlike a one-way robotic mission, we would need to get that whole payload back from Mars to Earth. When robotic missions fail, it’s a disappointment. If a human mission were to fail it would be a tragedy. We’re making increasingly sophisticated and robust robots. Other than posing photogenically in a space suit next to a flag, what could a human do that a robot couldn’t do? And how many dozens or hundreds of robotic missions could we send to Mars for the price of one human mission?

  4. Bruce

    Those are good points Anthony. I would also add that the rovers Spirit and Opportunity have shown that well built robots can last a long time even in the harsh Martian environment. Human time on the ground would of necessity be far shorter due to the long two way commute. Russ mentioned ‘remembering the triumphs of Apollo.’ I was a wide-eyed 11 year old when Armstrong made the “giant leap for all mankind”, and yes, it was more captivating than Curiosity is now because there were people up there, but I also remember not understanding how quickly the general publics attention toward the later Apollo missions faded. Looking back at it now, it seems like the world had attention deficit disorder. This condition has not gotten any better in the years since, at least here in the States. Would even an international, fairly supported manned mission to Mars be worth it? It’s safe to say that many other worthwhile studies won’t happen if enormous resources are diverted into a manned Mars program. So I think Anthony’s right: go, but go robotically.

  5. Brian

    Anthony has some good points for the current generation; however, to survive the human species WILL have to leave the earth and find new homes. There is no alternative for survival. I truly hope we don’t have Easter Island Syndrome by the time we decide this is necessary…

  6. Mike W. Herberich

    So, Brian, are you referring to our depleting (all) resources or to much later events like, for example, our sun turning into a red giant when you say "ultimately, we have to go"? Should you talk about the former, I get the distinct feeling that actually settling other heavenly bodies in significant numbers (so that one may speak of "saving" (all) mankind) were impossible, for the sheer timescales implied, … unless you’re talking of saving just a few privileged ones in order to ensure continuity of the human race per se, with every body else left to perish. Should you refer to the latter, it amounts to almost complete irrelevance: nobody may make any predictions beyond, say, 1’000 years from now. Too many unknown parameters in this chaotic system, having just very few "attractors". Such latter events are not expected before billions of years which makes predictions veer off by factors with many, many zeroes attached to it.

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