The Curiosity lander has successfully reached the surface of Mars and appears to be intact. Images began appearing at 10:40 PM PDT. Curiosity is the most complex automated space mission every attempted by mankind.
The craft’s descent-stage retrorockets fired as it descended, slowing its approach to the surface. In the most difficult part of the landing, nylon cords lowered the rover to the ground in the "sky crane" maneuver. When the spacecraft sensed touchdown, the connecting cords were severed, and the descent stage flew out of the way. The landing took place at about three o’clock in the afternoon Mars time at the landing site, and 10:31 PM PDT at JPL mission control.
The mission has four objectives: determine whether or not Mars could ever have supported life; study the planet’s climate and weather patterns; study its geology; and plan for a future manned mission. One of the key factors in such planning is to determine whether or not Mars has accessible water, either flowing or in the form of ice, because any long term manned mission is going to require a local water source. Without one, only short term missions will be possible.
At present, there is no specific plan for a manned Mars mission, but it is hoped that such a goal could be accomplished within the next twenty years.
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