Curiosity Landing on Mars Greeted with Whoops and Tears of Jubilation

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California — It was the picture-perfect precision during descent, the way that each milestone was reached and passed so seamlessly, the speed with which the 9-month voyage raced to its Martian destination, the apparent ease of it all — it seemed almost surreal, otherwordly.

How could something so complex as the hair-raising landing of Curiosity in a three-mile deep Martian crater be done with such utter aplomb?

The answer shouted loud and clear at the Jet Propulsion Lab in the hours after landing was that a team of hundreds of engineers and thousands of other workers had spent five, six, seven years perfecting the rover and its landing.  Scores of those jubilant men and women whooped and hugged and cried, and knew they were part of something very special.  And something uniquely American.

Cheers for Curiosity: The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team in the MSL Mission Support Area react after learning the the Curiosity rover has landed safely on Mars and images start coming in at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Sunday, August 5, 2012 in Pasadena, California. Rover Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls


It may have sounded a bit jingoist around JPL at times, but the truth is that only the United States has had the knowledge and moxie to successfully land a vehicle on Mars. We have now done it seven times, and no other nation has really come particularly close.  And with the touchdown of the one-ton and highly sophisticated Curiosity, the U.S. has reached a whole new level of expertise.

Breaking Orbit guest blogger Marc Kaufman is a journalist with The Washington Post and author of National Geographic’s e-book “Mars Landing 2012: Inside NASA’s Curiosity Mission.” He is also the author of “First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth,” published by Simon & Schuster.

Given that reality, there was actually little crowing about the achievement — more amazement, joy and relief.  You could see it in the tears of Adam Steltzner, the rock star lead of the landing team. You could see it in the bursting emotion as scores of hardcore engineers streamed into an after-landing press conference and whooped and hollered and high-fived with all the leaders of the mission. And you could hear it in the frequent nods to German and French and Russian and Canadian and Spanish partners who helped design and make quite a few of the science instruments.

We know what it’s like after an athlete breaks a record or performs a perfect routine or runs onto the field after the team wins the big match. The same for when an astronaut steps onto the moon and millions on Earth rejoice.

But the transported joy of a vast team of engineers and scientists is just not something we’re that familiar with, though goodness knows they not infrequently earn it.  In Times Square, crowds watching the landing coverage chanted “Science, science, science,” and “NASA, NASA, NASA.”  When have you ever heard that before?

The Curiosity team nailed it big time; an achievement for the ages. There’s still a lot that can go right or go wrong as the rover begins its exploration of Mars — and its travels and investigations have difficulty factors not much different than the landing.

But nothing can take away from the sheer thrill of the rover’s seemingly perfect landing. Or from the little known men and women who poured their lives into making it happen.

More from National Geographic:

Mars Rover Landing a Success — What Happens Now?

Pictures: Mars Rover’s “Crazy” Landing, Step by Step.

Explore an interactive time line of Mars exploration in National Geographic magazine.

Get the basics on the Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory rover.

Marc Kaufman’s National Geographic e-book Mars Landing 2012.
Download the full text >>

  • Daudu

    What a wonderful achievement. God is great!!!!

  • Robert Wright

    Yer, it was “a bit jingoist”. Which took nothing away from the achievement, but brought down the mood. Why did Stelztner have to say that “America is a nation … that conquers”? Why did Peter Theisinger have to say “excuse the [my] French” before using a mildly inappropriate expression? Why did Charles Bolden have to “go off script” to make vague, veiled references to “other nations” that he “won’t name” getting their comeuppance? Why did Joel Krajewski have to patronize international partners in the press conference, saying they were “quite capable” and hoping they would “take back what they learned to their own countries” like they had been visiting interns. And the insecure stuff about how there are those who say NASA has lost its edge, and this shows they’re wrong, etc. The way to look superior is by taking triumph as natural, not by bringing attention to the narratives of your critics.

    All of that stuff was weird, and unpleasant, in what should have been a time of pure triumph and joy. When you’ve done something like that, you don’t need to endear yourself to the world by yelling “America! F*** yeah! In your face, world!” Let the achievement do your talking for you. Those nameless “other nations” don’t care what someone says at a press conference. They can judge the massively ingenious competence of the landing for themselves, and draw their own conclusions.

  • Brad

    Robert Wright — Well said! When did science adopt an ethos that embraces trash talk? Hyper-nationalism has no place in reaching for the stars.

  • Suma Sudhi


  • Mike

    To Robert Wright:
    Because the mission was so amazingly complex, that’s why. Russia has tried 19 times to put a probe on mars. They failed 19 times. This mission took complexity to a whole new level.

    Now, to Daudu… God had nothing to do with it. Just ask the scientists and engineers who worked 24 hour days for years to make this happen. If it failed, would you still have posted “God is great!!!!”?

  • […] sending astronauts to Mars, even, perhaps, colonization. Celebration we normally see from athletes from scientists and engineers. It may have sounded a bit jingoist around JPL at times, but the truth is that only the United […]

  • […] seven minutes “turned into seven minutes of triumph.” NASA scientists and engineers whooped, high-fived, and even shed […]

  • […] National Geographic reports that this mission had been seven years in the making. The team was understandably stoked. […]

  • Janis

    As an American, yes the US ticks me off sometimes. We seem to have an attitude that, if one can cheat the starving widow out of her last $20, one almost has the moral obligation to do so. We can be shortsighted, selfish, greedy, and spoiled beyond belief.

    But on the other side, we also have this rockheaded conviction that ANY problem can be solved if you work hard enough at it and are clever enough. I remember having to tell this to a few Brits I knew online after their Beagle mission to Mars tanked. They were all, “I knew it wouldn’t work, we can’t do this, YOU guys (Americans) can do this but we can’t wah wah,” and I told them, “Look, we’ve crashed and burned a bunch of times on Mars, we just keep sending stuff because we’re stubborn. Just send another mission — keep throwing stuff at the planet until something sticks, and you learn better with each failure.” They thought I was nuts.

    Well, okay. Americans are nuts. But it’s a nice nuts, isn’t it? 🙂

  • David Diaz

    Retired engineer from “rocket engine” field 26 years. Still feel a part of these programs. Whoooraaa Nasa and all supportive people that layed the foundation thru the years for today and tomorrows !!

  • Peter Grenader

    Robert Wright: Chill. Try not to be so effected by simple turns of phrase which mean nothing in the scope of things. The ‘Pardon my French ‘thing being the most outlandish example of politically incorrect I’ve ever heard. Relax, K?

    Daudu: God is great, possibly true, but this was about People being great, right?

  • Ima Ryma

    Curiosity came to Mars,
    Curious if there life could be.
    Forever, mankind’s looked to stars
    With ever curiousity.
    And when the landing was success,
    Joyed celebration back on Earth,
    A crowning moment to caress,
    That precious life did have real worth.
    One day upon Mars there will land
    Not just machine but humankind.
    By then it’s hoped we understand
    More mysteries in life we find.

    Curiosity can do good
    In universe and neighborhood.

  • […] we’d like to congratulate NASA and the hard working folks over at JPL for successfully landing an SUV-sized rover in a 3-mile deep Martian crater. Amazing […]

  • waqas ahmad

    congratulation to the whole team of NASA….

  • […] approach to landing. When Curiosity approached Mars traveling 14,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft flawlessly executed a complex series of pre-programmed events leading up to the moment when a radical new touch-down […]

  • Rocko42

    Earthings are sometimes very cool!

    Has anyone else noticed the striking, eerie similarity between Curiosity and… JOHNNY 5 ? (and by proxy then, Wall-E)



  • flpmihai

    It’s a lie. There is clear proof. Just search for “Curiosity never landed on mars”. You don’t need to check my website, just search for the damn picture, it’s amazing.

  • […] (See “Curiosity Landing on Mars Greeted With Whoops and Tears of Jubilation.”) […]

  • […] on Mars after traveling a daunting 352 million miles. It was a triumphant moment for the scores of Curiosity team members who had spent years engineering the mission. And it has become the archetypal example of the […]

  • Smithk452

    I keep listening to the news update lecture about receiving boundless online grant applications so I have been looking around for the top site to get one. Could you advise me please, where could i acquire some? kbdcbdcagc

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