Amazing photo: the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took one of the best space pictures of the decade – Curiosity descending to Mars, using its parachutes.
As you can see, the rover is safely descending inside its backshell, suspended from its huge parachute; the picture was taken just as the rover was deccelerating from thousands of kilometers per hour to just hundreds. After this moment, Curiosity’s rockets did their job and slower the descent even further.
Again, I just have to admire the skillful calculations, precise engineering, creative planning and perfect timing that went behind the entire Curiosity project. But just take a minute and contemplate the sheer awesomeness of the picture: here we have a photo taken by a camera that’s been orbiting Mars for six years, during which it has been reset and reprogrammed by programmers millions of kilometers away using math and science pioneered centuries ago, just so that it could take a picture of another machine engineers have sent to the Red Planet, traveling hundreds of thousands of kilometers just so that it can parachute and land on Mars seven minutes later – and Curiosity’s mission is just now starting.
Also, about the recent wave of negative comments surrounding the mission, I’d like to share with you this remarkable insight published on Discovery:
The news these days is filled with polarization, with hate, with fear, with ignorance. But while these feelings are a part of us, and always will be, they neither dominate nor define us. Not if we don’t let them. When we reach, when we explore, when we’re curious – that’s when we’re at our best. We can learn about the world around us, the Universe around us. It doesn’t divide us, or separate us, or create artificial and wholly made-up barriers between us. As we saw on Twitter, at New York Times Square where hundreds of people watched the landing live, and all over the world: science and exploration bind us together. Science makes the world a better place, and it makes us better people.