Published August 23, 2012
Viewers can now relive the drama of the Curiosity rover's landing on Mars with a new NASA video detailing the final moments of touchdown.
The space agency Thursday posted the video on its website embedded with audio from mission control. It starts with the heat shield falling away. The ground grows larger in view as Curiosity is lowered by cables inside an ancient Martian crater. "Touchdown confirmed" is heard followed by cheers.
Curiosity is the first spacecraft to record a landing on another planet. The six-wheel rover arrived on Aug. 5 to begin a two-year mission to examine whether the Martian environment was hospitable for microbial life.
NASA previously released a low-quality video of Curiosity's landing. The latest video is higher quality, but it's incomplete and missing several frames.
On Wednesday, the rover took a test drive, edging forward about 15 feet, rotating to a right angle and reversing a short distance, leaving tracks in the rust-tinged soil.
In several days, Curiosity was poised to drive farther to study whether the red planet's environment could have supported life.
Curiosity landed in Gale Crater near the Martian equator to explore whether the environment once supported microbial life. The touchdown site has been named Bradbury Landing in honor of the late "The Martian Chronicles" author Ray Bradbury, who would have turned 92 on Wednesday.
The rover's ultimate destination is Mount Sharp, a towering mountain that looms from the ancient crater floor. Signs of past water have been spotted at the base, providing a starting point to hunt for the chemical building blocks of life.
Before Curiosity journeys toward the mountain, it will take a detour to an intriguing spot 1,300 feet away where it will drill into bedrock. With the test drive out of the way, Curiosity was expected to stay at its new position for several days before making its first big drive -- a trip that will take as long as a month and a half.
Curiosity won't head to Mount Sharp until the end of the year.
See below for an enhanced version of Curiosity landing video.