Overshadowing, perhaps, America’s Olympic victories, which have given the Nation the pride of having the system and the values to produce such success, is the more historically remarkable achievement of setting NASA’s rover, named Curiosity, upon the planet Mars. Coming two years behind deadline and $900 million over budget, the rover nevertheless relieved “7 minutes of terror,” while it entered Mar’s atmosphere, released a supersonic parachute, fired its rockets to brace for impact, deployed “sky-crane” technology, and made it safely in place on the Red Planet’s surface.
Around 70 percent of previous missions to Mars have failed, so it came as a great relief when after 14 minutes the vessel’s signal reached earth to confirm success.
“This feat that you saw tonight is something that only the United States of America can do. And the rover was made in the USA,” said an effusive John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
NASA Deputy Project Manager Richard Cook had the same tone when he said “That rocked. Seriously. Was that not cool?”
What made it so cool? NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden explains: “It’s like us launching something from Kennedy Space Center and having it land in the Rose Bowl, on the 50-yard-line, on a Frisbee.” The analogy refers to the 352 million mile journey of the car-sized Curiosity into the 100 miles long Gale Crater.
To commemorate the event, Obama made a statement nominating the Mars landing as a cause of great pride for America:
Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history.
The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.
Tonight’s success, delivered by NASA, parallels our major steps forward towards a vision for a new partnership with American companies to send American astronauts into space on American spacecraft. That partnership will save taxpayer dollars while allowing NASA to do what it has always done best – push the very boundaries of human knowledge. And tonight’s success reminds us that our preeminence – not just in space, but here on Earth – depends on continuing to invest wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research that has always made our economy the envy of the world.
I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality – and I eagerly await what Curiosity has yet to discover.