World

'We are wheels down on Mars. Oh, my God!'

  • Romain Raynaldy, AFP, Pasadena
  • |
  • Updated: Aug 07, 2012 12:56 IST

After years of hard work and seven minutes of terror, workers of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena let out their tears of joy.


"Touchdown confirmed," said a member of mission control at the laboratory as the room erupted in cheers at the touchdown of their Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity rover on the surface of the Red Planet, breaking new ground in the US-led search for signs of alien life.

"We are wheels down on Mars. Oh, my God!"

Just minutes before that, a small control room packed with mission specialists had plunged into anguished silence as everyone watched images on the screens of the main control room.

"Seven minutes of terror" was how Nasa characterised the extremely sophisticated operation that preceded the actual landing.

An initial round of applause came when Curiosity sent its first signal before entering the Martian atmosphere. A second sigh of relief was when the ship opened its parachute.

But the most difficult part was yet to come: the vessel had to stabilise before an overhead crane, using nylon cables, gently placed Curiosity on the Martian soil -- an operation that had never before been conducted.

At 10:32 pm local time this was accomplished and cries of joys filled the JPL: "Hell, we did it!"

The joy was palpable as project managers passed around Mars chocolate bars to employees, the JPL's "shadow army" of people who never appeared on cameras but worked doggedly for eight years to make the historic moment possible.

Intoxicated by their success, the JPL workers — all dressed in  commemorative blue polo shirts with "August 5" embroidered on the heart — poured into the press conference room.

When the mission managers rose to the podium, the "blue shirts" rose, waving small American flags and chanting "EDL! EDL! EDL!" for the Entry, Descent, Landing team.

 

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