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NASA showered with praise over Curiosity Mars rover landing

NASA is exulting in its latest success: A one-ton robotic science lab safely deposited on the surface of Mars via never-before-attempted entry and descent maneuvers. 

By Mike WallSPACE.com / August 6, 2012

MSL press conference panelists raising arms in exultation following the succesful landing of Curiosity rover on Mars, Sunday.

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Pasadena, Calif.

They entered the room like rock stars coming back onstage for an encore, or like heroes returning from a war.

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The leaders of the team that put NASA's huge Curiosity rover safely on the surface of Mars received a raucous and lengthy standing ovation as they filed in for a post-landing press conference here at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Sunday night (Aug. 5).

The excitement was understandable, for the team had just pulled off an unprecedented, daring and nerve-wracking touchdown on the Red Planet. In a maneuver that had never been attempted before on another world, a rocket-powered sky crane lowered the 1-ton rover to the Martian surface on cables, then flew off to crash-land intentionally a safe distance away.

After things settled down, NASA chief Charles Bolden said a few stirring and patriotic words, as did White House science adviser John Holdren, who conveyed President Obama's congratulations on a job well done. [1st Images of Mars from Curiosity Rover (Video)]

Landing Curiosity successfully "was by any measure the most challenging mission ever attempted in the history of robotic planetary exploration," Holdren said. "So congratulations again, and long live American Curiosity!"

Then ecstatic chaos reigned again, as Curiosity's entire entry, descent and landing team came in to another standing ovation and chants of "EDL! EDL! EDL!"

Dozens of engineers made a circuit of the room, shaking hands and exchanging high-fives with the luminaries on the podium and the reporters and assorted guests in the crowd. The exuberant display continued for 10 minutes or so before JPL director Charles Elachi pleaded for calm and quiet so the press conference could continue.

The mood then shifted again, to one of reflection and reverence in contemplation of a great achievement. Several speakers stressed the importance of the night's events for NASA's planetary exploration efforts, and for the nation as a whole.

"There are many out in the community who say that NASA has lost its way, that we don't know how to explore, that we've lost our moxie," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "I think it's fair to say that NASA knows how to explore, we've been exploring, and we're on Mars."

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