Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars   

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 6 2012 10:00 AM

Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars   

NASA control room
In this handout image provided by NASA, Mars Science Laboratory team members talk in the MSL Mission Support Area at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ahead of the planned landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, Aug. 5 in Pasadena, California.

Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

The scene in the control room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena was so jubilant as the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars at 10:32 p.m. Pacific time last night that a cheesy Hollywood movie score would not have been out of place. There were sporadic cheers throughout the "seven minutes of terror" landing process, but the real outburst began with the words "touchdown confirmed."

The quote of the night, however, came from Deputy Project Manager Richard Cook, minutes after the landing. "That rocked!" he said. "Seriously, was that not cool?"

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The rover, by far the largest and most sophisticated spacecraft to land on Mars, is slated to spend the next two years probing a crater on the planet's surface, sifting through the soil for evidence of life and more. The landing was a precarious process whose success was not assured until it happened. There was no live video of the landing itself, but watching it unfold from Pasadena was, yes, seriously cool.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.