Go Earth! We Made It to Mars Again!

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Woooh, we did it! Woooooooh! NASA’s new Mars rover, Curiosity (much of which was built here in Maryland) made history early Monday morning when it successfully landed on the red planet.

NASA is calling it the “most elaborate and difficult feat in the annals of robotic spaceflight,” the Baltimore Sun reports. It’s also way cool how they landed the rover. Once the rocket had gotten into the atmosphere, the entry craft broke off and began the descent, which worked in five stages summarized after the jump.

Stage 1: The entry craft opens a parachute, which slows the fall.

Stage 2: About five miles form the surface, the heat shield drops away, leaving the rover exposed from the bottom. It starts photographing Mars’ surface.

Stage 3: The entry craft and parachute break off, leaving the sky crane and Mars Rover.

Stage 4: The sky crane uses jet thrusters to hold itself about 66 feet off the surface, while it lowers the rover.

Stage 5: Curiosity touches ground and the sky crane cuts loose.

Since Mars is so far away there’s a 14-minute time lag between when something happens and when we see it, so there was a pretty terrifying quarter-hour where we didn’t know what happened to the rover. Thankfully, scientists (and all those people in Times Square) weren’t let down – Curiosity landed safely and has already started broadcasting images.

Oreo has hopped on the celebration bandwagon with a Mars-themed cookie, sadly not available in stores.

Needless to say, our boys/girls and NASA are pretty happy about this one, and rightly so. I tip my imaginary space-helmet to you, Curiosity.

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