NASA has released the video that had everyone in the space program--and those who just admire the space program--holding their collective breath: the final 2.5 minutes of Mars rover Curiosity's descent onto the red planet, starting with the ejection of the heat shield and ending with a cloud of dust as the rover settled onto the planet's surface.
While only low resolution--it will take a while before full-resolution frames are beamed back--the video shows why NASA scientists and engineers were both biting their nails and beaming their pride as the unit went from 13,000 miles an hour to zero without having that zero be a splash of dust and debris.
The high-res video, when it's produced, "will be just exquisite," Michael Martin, chief scientist of the instrument told the Associated Press.
The one-ton Curiosity navigated the thin Martian atmosphere to land on target after an eight-month, 352-million-mile flight. Fortunately, the unit runs on nuclear power, not gasoline, because there are no rest stops along the way.
The landing, of course, is just the start of the mission and the start of the video that's expected to pour back into NASA as Curiosity roves around Mars looking for signs of life--past or present.
"We have just started one phase of the mission, much to our enjoyment," mission manager Mike Watkins told AP. "But another part has just begun."
That part will include an array of photos and videos, some of which have already started rolling in as the rover gets its final workovers before being sent on its way in the next few weeks. The photos--right now a part of the unit's maintenance lookover--show "a new Mars we have never seen before … so every one of those pictures is the most beautiful picture I have ever seen," Watkins added.
In addition to the cameras aboard the rover, a high-resolution camera on the already-in-place Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took shots of the landing from its perch 211 miles above the planet.
-see this story from the Associated Press