NASA's rover "Curiosity" successfully landed on Mars overnight and is already transmitting historic images of the red planet back to earth. And a Reno geologist has a close tie to that mission. Dr. Wendy Calvin was a part of the landing team for Rovers "Spirit" and "Opportunity".
"It is historic and groundbreaking and amazing!" she said from her office at UNR. "We have just flawlessly executed the most complicated landing system ever in robotic exploration!"
While she wasn't in the control room for this landing she recognized a lot of faces there.
"Of course I had a bunch of colleagues and friend there and it was tremendous to see them all so excited and to see things work so flawlessly. It was just picture perfect!"
As for the mission, she says it will further what "Spirit" and "Opportunity" had already been able to do. She says "Curiosity" will be looking for the building blocks of life including carbon and hydrogen and nitrogen. And with the most sophisticated suite of equipment so far what "Curiosity" sends back will be fascinating. The black-and-white images so far are truly amazing. It will be several days before the rover's mast-camera will begin to send high-resolution color images back to earth.
"We'll be looking for those building blocks and see if they were put together in the beginning stages of Mars and try to understand the time frame when it might have been more wet and if they existed ...if life could've gotten started."
"Curiosity" will spend the next two years trekking across the Mars landscape collecting and analyzing rocks and soil, and sending back historic data to earth.
President Obama called the landing "an unprecedented feat of technology, and thanked the NASA workers who made the mission possible.