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Out of the Ordinary

New Mars Photos will take your breath away

Scott Hixson

New Mars photos will arrive in higher-res and in color within days

The Curiosity rover has sent back a number of grainy images from the Martian landscape

New Mars photos taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover reveal the Martian surface after an eight-month, suspense-ridden 352-million-mile journey to the red planet. The mission has been heralded as a tremendous success by NASA administrators, engineers and citizens alike.

The new Mars photos reveal Martian gravel, a mountain framed by the Martian sunset and the craft’s suspenseful descent through the atmosphere in grainy, black-and-white detail.

The Curiosity rover weighs one ton and many feared its seven minute plunge through the atmosphere from 13,000 mph to zero would result in disaster. However, the roving laboratory, approximately the size of a compact car, touched down late Sunday night on a perfectly flat portion of a crater, right on target.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory rung with the cheers and applause of engineers and administrators as they rejoiced the mission’s initial success, JPL Director Charles Elachi compared the mission to the ongoing Olympic Games, “This team came back with the gold.”

“Everybody in the morning should be sticking their chests out and saying, ‘That’s my rover on Mars,’” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

“We have ended one phase of the mission much to our enjoyment,” said mission manager Mike Watkins. “But another part has just begun.”

The $2.5 billion nuclear-powered roving laboratory will not begin moving for a couple of weeks but will eventually dig into the Martian surface to analyze soil and rock for some of the molecular components of life, including carbon, while also sending color photos, panoramas and videos back to Earth. The color photos, videos and panoramas will start arriving in the coming days.

The news Mars photos relayed to NASA shortly after Curiosity’s landing are the result of tiny cameras designed to spot obstructions in front of the rover’s wheels. Despite the poor quality of the pictures, NASA scientists are ecstatic.

According to Watkins, every photo reveals “a new Mars we have never seen before. So every one of those pictures is the most beautiful picture I have ever seen.”

One of the new Mars photos was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a 7-year-old craft orbiting 211 miles directly above Curiosity as it plummeted towards the Martian surface. The orbiter was able to snap a photo of the rover as it was suspended from its parachute approximately one minute before touchdown.

In another of the new Mars photos, you can see “a silhouette of Mount Sharp in the setting sun,” according to chief mission scientist from the California Institute of Technology, John Grotzinger.

“It’s just mind-boggling to me,” said Miguel San Martin, chief engineer for the landing team.

Former NASA chief technologist Bobby Braun said of the mission, “I think its engineering at its finest. What engineers do is they make the impossible possible.”

Thanks to the International Business Times for an excellent compilation of the photos, available here.

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