By Alex DeMetrick

GREENBELT, Md. (WJZ) — A $2.5 billion gamble has paid off. NASA’s Mars rover named Curiosity is wheels down on the Martian surface.

Alex DeMetrick reports scientists in Maryland and across the country held their breath as the spacecraft made a first of its kind landing.

The problem: slow a one ton spacecraft down from 13,000 miles per hour to a soft landing on Mars, and do it in seven minutes.

“New technologies never attempted before were created for this journey,” said NASA Director Charles Bolden.

At 1 a.m. at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, scientists and engineers anxiously watched a live feed from the control center in California as the rover Curiosity was first slowed by a supersonic parachute to 200 miles per hour and then dropped inside a rocket-powered landing platform. Slowing steadily and running off an onboard program outside Earth’s control, Curiosity was gently lowered to a soft landing by cables. A radio signal let controllers know it worked.

Relief it worked was no less felt at Goddard. Within hours, the first black and white photographs showed Curiosity’s shadow and inside the rover is the portable chemistry lab built at Goddard and now on Mars in one piece.

“Nervous trepidation. Always expect the best but in the back of your mind, something might not happen quite right and the fact it went off flawlessly is just incredible. It’s amazing; it’s so cool,” said Noah Petro, Goddard Space Flight Center.

While landing on Mars is a huge step, it is only the first step.

Once the rover goes to work, one of its prime missions is to look for signs of extinct life. The chemical lab built in Maryland will analyze samples of Martian rock from deep in the planet’s past, looking for signs of organic material.

“And whether or not there could have ever been organic life on Mars. I can only imagine the amazing things we will learn,” Petro said.

High resolution color photographs from Mars will come in the days ahead as instruments are checked out. Curiosity will roam Mars for the next two years.


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