A Martian Odyssey Begins: On Nov. 26, 2011, NASA’s new one-ton, nuclear-powered, laser-armed rover Curiosity launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to begin a 350 million mile journey to the Red Planet. This momentous day was full of excitement for what the robot might discover after it landed on Mars eight months later on Aug. 5, 2012.
While the launch was exciting, little could prepare us for the intense drama of Curiosity’s entry, descent and landing (EDL), nicknamed the “7 minutes of terror” — the moniker for the period of time between the rover’s heatshield hitting the upper Martian atmosphere to the amazing rocket-propelled, near-perfect landing inside Gale Crater.
The Atlas V rocket launch was just the beginning, and only one year on, the historic Mars Science Laboratory is doing groundbreaking work on Mars, already finding evidence of an ancient riverbed, discovering weird (yet strangely familiar) geology and creating controversy around an as-yet to be announced finding that, apparently, will be one for the “history books.”
In short, Curiosity is amazing. This day last year marked the beginning of an epic Martian odyssey by the most advanced machine mankind has ever sent to another world. Roll on Curiosity, roll on.