NASA's Curiosity Rover Caught in the Act of Landing

Posted on August 6, 2012

MRO Captures Curiosity Parachute Landing

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) snapped an amazing photo of Curiosity during its descent to the Mars surface. An image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's MRO captured the Curiosity rover still connected to its 51-foot-wide parachute as it descended towards its landing site at Gale Crater. The camera captured the image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. A larger version of the image can be found here.

Sarah Milkovich, HiRISE investigation scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., says, "If HiRISE took the image one second before or one second after, we probably would be looking at an empty Martian landscape. When you consider that we have been working on this sequence since March and had to upload commands to the spacecraft about 72 hours prior to the image being taken, you begin to realize how challenging this picture was to obtain."

In the image, the parachute appears fully inflated and performing perfectly. Details in the parachute, such as the band gap at the edges and the central hole, can clearly be seen. The cords connecting the parachute to the back shell cannot be seen, perhaps due to the difference in lighting angles. NASA says the bright spot on the back shell containing Curiosity might be a reflection off of a shiny area. Curiosity was released from the back shell sometime after this image was acquired.

Milkovich also says, "Guess you could consider us the closest thing to paparazzi on Mars. We definitely caught NASA's newest celebrity in the act."

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona