Finally, NASA's Curiosity Rover, the most advanced Mars rover ever, kissed the surface of the Red Planet Sunday. With Curiosity now safely on the surface of Mars after its spectacular entry into the Martian atmosphere, NASA unveiled a low-resolution, color video from Curiosity on Monday that showed what someone, had they been aboard the spacecraft, would have seen during the last couple of minutes of the historic landing.
Scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory were left spellbound when the scientist in charge of the camera, Michael Malin, showed off thumbnails of the video flashing on the big screen on Monday afternoon. The recording began with the protective heat shield falling away and ended with dust being kicked up as the rover was lowered by cables inside an ancient crater, the Associated Press reported.
Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. (1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain that was three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside the Gale Crater. Since then, the rover has sent back a number of pictures, including black-and-white views of the rocky ground in front of the rover.
Still more pictures are anticipated in the next several days, including a panorama of Curiosity's surroundings and a higher-resolution version of the video from Curiosity's Mars Descent Imager, also called MARDI.
The MARDI camera is mounted on the rover's chassis, looking down toward Mars' surface. The video was assembled from 297 still images taken during the last two and a half minutes of Curiosity's flight, according to NBC News.
The full video "will just be exquisite," said Michael Malin, the chief scientist of the instrument.
At first, NASA had to use small cameras designed to capture hazards in front of Curiosity's wheels. Although the early pictures were fuzzy, they were just enough to have scientists thrilled.
The photos show "a new Mars we have never seen before," said mission manager Mike Watkins. "So every one of those pictures is the most beautiful picture I have ever seen."
An image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured the Curiosity rover still connected to its 51-foot (almost 16 meter)-wide parachute as it descended toward its landing site at the Gale Crater. Click here for more information.
The image was taken while MRO was 211 miles (340 kilometers) away from the parachuting rover. Curiosity and its rocket-propelled backpack, contained within the conical-shaped back shell, had not deployed yet. At the time, Curiosity was about two miles (three kilometers) above the Martian surface.
"It's just mind-boggling to me," said Miguel San Martin, chief engineer for the landing team.
The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.
Have a look at the video from Curiosity, looking down on the red planet during its historic landing:
Click the slideshow to see new Mars photos released by NASA.