Tucked into the headlines dominated by the Olympics, a winning team of scientists and engineers held their breath as Curiosity touched down on Mars earlier this week.
After an eight-month voyage nearly 352 million miles, the Mars rover defied skeptics’ doubts to make a perfect landing. To accomplish this amazing feat, Curiosity had to slow down from 13,000 mph to 2 mph in just a matter of minutes, settling gently on the planet’s soil and landing into the history books. Curiosity is another American success story for the nation’s space program.
Scientists working in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory erupted into celebration over Curiosity’s triumph. Safely landing the pricy $2.5 billion, one-ton rover displayed remarkable ingenuity and technical skill. Kudos echoed from everywhere, with President Obama offering a well-deserved message of congratulations.
Curiosity, launched from Cape Canaveral, joins the 2004 rovers Opportunity, which is still operational, and Spirit, now defunct, on the red planet. The rover’s mission is to search for basic elements of life after past missions discovered ice near Mars’ poles. Scientists question whether Mars was ever home to early life forms. The rover’s potential discoveries probe the mystery of the existence of life outside Earth.
Curiosity’s success should deepen the U.S. determination to explore the space frontier. Its mission is part of a decades-long space program that has been through some trying times lately. But even though manned space missions are currently on hiatus, the landing of the rover signals that the demise of the space program has been vastly exaggerated.
With a scaled-back space program, the United States is turning to other countries for manned shuttles, but the drama of space exploration continues. Curiosity is the largest and most sophisticated vehicle that NASA has landed on Mars, illustrating the agency’s continuing commitment to expand the frontiers of our knowledge of the universe. At the moment, a manned mission to Mars is just a NASA hope, but the dream should never be abandoned.
The rover’s safe landing reminds the world that America was, and is, at the forefront of space exploration. The country should never put NASA and its missions on the backburner with the potential it holds for scientific advancement. With continued success and support, it’s a rover today, a human tomorrow.