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The Mission




Mission: Mars Science Lab
Rocket: Atlas 5 (AV-028)
Launch: Nov. 26, 2011 @ 10:02am EST (1502 GMT)
Landing: Aug. 6, 2012 @ 1:32am EDT (0532 GMT)
Site: Base of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater

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President Obama calls to congratulate Mars rover team
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: August 13, 2012


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In a phone call to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, President Obama congratulated the Mars Science Laboratory team Monday for the successful landing of NASA's Curiosity rover, joking that engineers should let him know ASAP if the spacecraft spots any martians.


File image from final shuttle mission. Credit: White House
 
"We can't wait to start hearing back from Curiosity and finding out what's going on," Obama said. "We're fortunate to be part of a society that can reach beyond our planet and explore frontiers that were only imagined by our ancestors. So it's inspiring to all of us.

"I'm going to give you guys a personal commitment to protect these critical investments in science and technology, I thank you for devoting your lives to this cause and if, in fact, you do make contact with martians, please let me know right away. I've got a lot of other things on my plate, but I suspect that that will go to the top of the list. Even if they're just microbes, it will be pretty exciting."

Curiosity completed a successful descent to the floor of Gale Crater on Aug. 6, using a rocket-powered flying crane to lower the one-ton nuclear-powered rover to the surface. If all goes well, the rover will spend at least two years exploring the crater, looking for carbon compounds critical for life as it is known on Earth and for evidence of past or present habitability.

While congratulating the entire MSL team, Obama singled out the entry, descent and landing team, led by Adam Steltzner, for the so-called "sky crane" technique that delivered the rover directly to the surface of Mars after an autonomous seven-minute plunge through the atmosphere.

"What you did on Mars was incredibly impressive, those 76 pyrotechnics going on in perfect succession, the 500,000 lines of code working exactly the way you guys had ordered them, it's really mind boggling what you've been able to accomplish," the president said. "Being able to get that whole landing sequence to work the way you did, it's a testimony to your team.

"I especially want to congratulate Charles Elachi, the head of JPL, the entry, descent and landing lead, Adam (Steltzner for) the sky crane system. What you accomplished embodied the American spirit and your passion and your commitment is making a difference and your hard work is now paying dividends, because our expectation is that Curiosity is going to be telling us things that we did not know before and laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future, and that's a human mission to the red planet."

But the Obama administration is scaling back funding for planetary exploration. In NASA's fiscal 2013 budget request, the administration reduced spending for planetary exploration by 20 percent, most of it coming from the Mars program, with additional cuts expected in later years. As a result, NASA was forced to withdraw from two planned Mars missions that would have been conducted jointly with the European Space Agency in 2016 and 2018. No other "flagship" missions like Curiosity's are currently in development.

The budget debate has no impact on current operations, however, and JPL engineers spent the weekend installing and verifying surface operations software in Curiosity's redundant computers, overwriting the no-longer-needed entry, descent and landing programming and replacing initial checkout programs with more sophisticated routines. The upgrade also adds the ability to operate the rover's science instruments, robot arm and mobility system.

The software upgrade, from version 9.4 to 10.0, was expected to be completed over the next day or so. Over the weekend, JPL posted the first high-resolution color images from the rover, part of an initial 360-degree panorama of its surroundings in Gale Crater.

Additional photos, completing the panorama mosaic, are expected soon, along with high-resolution images from Curiosity's descent camera, which captured the final minutes of the rover's landing.

The president said Curiosity is an inspiration to the youth of the nation, "and that kind of inspiration is the by-product of work of the sort you guys have done."

"You guys should be remarkably proud," he concluded. "It is really what makes us best as a species is this curiosity that we have, this yearning to discover and know more and push the boundaries of knowledge. You are perfect examples of that and we couldn't be more grateful to you. So congratulations, keep up the good work."

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Additional coverage for subscribers:
VIDEO: THE MARS SCIENCE LAB FULL LAUNCH EXPERIENCE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ATLAS 5 ROCKET LAUNCHES MARS SCIENCE LAB PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ONBOARD CAMERA VIEW OF NOSE CONE JETTISON PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ONBOARD CAMERA VIEW OF THE STAGING EVENT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ONBOARD VIEW OF ROCKET RELEASING MSL PLAY
VIDEO: LAUNCH DECLARED A SUCCESS PLAY

VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: OUR VIEW OF LIFTOFF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: VAB ROOF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: PATRICK AFB PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SOUTH OF THE PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: THE BEACH TRACKER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SHUTTLE PAD CAMERA PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SHUTTLE WATER TOWER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: TRACKER WEST OF THE PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: CLOSE-UP ON UMBILICALS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: COMPLEX 41 VIF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: THE PRESS SITE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH PROJECT MANAGER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: NARRATED PREVIEW OF ATLAS 5 ASCENT PROFILE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROCKET'S LAUNCH CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MSL'S LAUNCH CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPACECRAFT CLEANROOM TOUR PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: ATLAS ROCKET ROLLS OUT TO LAUNCH PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: TIME-LAPSE VIEWS OF ROCKET ROLLOUT PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: THE PRE-LAUNCH NEWS CONFERENCE PLAY
VIDEO: CURIOSITY ROVER SCIENCE BRIEFING PLAY
VIDEO: LOOKING FOR LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE PLAY
VIDEO: WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE RED PLANET PLAY
VIDEO: ROBOTICS AND HUMANS TO MARS TOGETHER PLAY

VIDEO: PREVIEW OF ENTRY, DESCENT AND LANDING PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: PREVIEW OF CURIOSITY ROVER EXPLORING MARS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: A FLYOVER OF THE GALE CRATER LANDING SITE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: NUCLEAR GENERATOR HOISTED TO ROVER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MARS SCIENCE LAB MOUNTED ATOP ATLAS 5 PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MOVING MSL TO ATLAS ROCKET HANGAR PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPACECRAFT PLACED ABOARD TRANSPORTER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: APPLYING MISSION LOGOS ON THE FAIRING PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MSL ENCAPSULATED IN ROCKET'S NOSE CONE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FINAL LOOK AT SPACECRAFT BEFORE SHROUDING PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: HEAT SHIELD INSTALLED ONTO SPACECRAFT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: BEAUTY SHOTS OF SPACECRAFT PACKED UP PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ATTACHING THE RING-LIKE CRUISE STAGE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: PARACHUTE-EQUIPPED BACKSHELL INSTALLED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SKYCRANE AND CURIOSITY MATED TOGETHER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: TWO-HALVES OF ROCKET NOSE CONE ARRIVES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CENTAUR UPPER STAGE HOISTED ATOP ATLAS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FINAL SOLID ROCKET BOOSTER ATTACHED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FIRST OF FOUR SOLID BOOSTERS MOUNTED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FIRST STAGE ERECTED ON MOBILE LAUNCHER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: STAGES DRIVEN FROM HARBOR TO THE ASOC PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROCKET ARRIVES ABOARD SEA-GOING VESSEL PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: STOWING ROVER'S INSTRUMENTED ROBOT ARM PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: DEPLOYING CURIOSITY'S SIX WHEELS ON EARTH PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MMRTG PUT BACK INTO STORAGE AT SPACEPORT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: NUCLEAR GENERATOR FIT-CHECK ON THE ROVER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROVER'S NUCLEAR POWER SOURCE ARRIVES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPIN-TESTING THE RING-LIKE CRUISE STAGE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: UNCOVERING CURIOSITY ROVER IN CLEANROOM PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: UNVEILING THE ROCKET-POWERED SKYCRANE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: UNBOXING THE ROVER FROM SHIPPING CRATE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROVER HAULED FROM RUNWAY TO PHSF FACILITY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MARS ROVER ARRIVES AT KENNEDY SPACE CENTER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: DESCENT WEIGHTS INSTALLED ON BACKSHELL PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SOLAR ARRAY PANELS ATTACHED TO CRUISE RING PLAY | HI-DEF
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