NASA's Mars rover makes daring touchdown on Red Planet (+video)
An ambitious maneuver involving an enormous supersonic parachute and a rocket-powered sky crane safely delivered the one-ton, $2.5 billion dollar robot to the surface of Mars.
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"We are going to have the opportunity for untold discoveries," Doug McCuistion, head of NASA's Mars Exploration program, said before Curiosity's landing Sunday. "It's going to be exciting, with years of exploration coming."Skip to next paragraph
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Helping save NASA planetary science
NASA is expecting big things from Curiosity. The rover's discoveries should help lay the foundation for a concerted life-detection mission, which would likely involve sending samples of Martian soil and rock to Earth for study, agency officials have said.
Martian sample-return would likely cost several billion dollars, however, putting it out of NASA's reach for the forseeable future. The space agency temporarily shelved all plans for such ambitious, expensive "flagship" planetary missions after the White House released its 2013 federal budget request in February.
This request cut NASA's planetary science efforts by 20 percent, from $1.5 billion this year to $1.2 billion next year, with further cuts expected in the coming years.
Much of this money will come out of the agency's Mars program, which sees its funding fall from $587 million this year to $360 million in 2013, and then to just $189 million in 2015.
But NASA thinks this budget outlook could improve if Curiosity performs as advertised. Curiosity's discoveries might generate enough enthusiasm among the public and politicians to restore some of the lost funding, officials have said.
"I think the way to recover the program is to have a much broader community understand the value, and we have a huge opportunity with MSL landing — where there'll be a lot of visibility, some real discoveries, some really interesting discoveries — to talk about the exciting work that leverages the science," John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science, said in March.
Curiosity launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 26, 2011. The mission was originally slated to blast off in 2009, but technical setbacks pushed things back two years to the next available Mars launch window.
- Mars Rover Curiosity: Mars Science Lab Coverage
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- Mars Curiosity – What's Rover To Do? | Video
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