This Is All The Junk The Curiosity Mission Has Left On Mars

By Max Eddy on August 7, 2012 6:04 PM EDT

Curiosity Landing Junk
This image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows where all the discarded pieces of the Curiosity mission wound up. (Photo: NASA)

When NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, called Curiosity, descended to the Red Planet, it did so in a manner never before attempted. The dramatic landing was a resounding success, but it did leave quite a bit of debris around the Gale Crater landing site.

After successfully photographing the MSL landing from orbit, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite has returned this remarkable image showing where the pieces all fell. At the bottom right of the image is the heat shield, which kept Curiosity safe before it was jettisoned in order for the onboard radar to take critical distance measurements.

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At the bottom left is the enormous parachute, which the MRO successfully photographed during the landing. After it was deployed, the parachute swelled to an enormous 51 feet around. Near the parachute is the back shell, which surrounded Curiosity during its flight. After the parachute slowed down the rover, both it and and the back shell were cut loose.

Top left in the image is the sky crane, which served as the final vehicle in Curiosity's descent. After breaking loose from the back shell, the sky crane fired its rockets and continued slowing the rover's descent. Then, it hovered overhead while lowering Curiosity about 25 to the surface. Once safely down, the sky crane disconnected its cables from Curiosity before flying off for a crash landing as seen in the image.

Finally, near the center of the image is the Curiosity rover. Though it landed alone, NASA says the discoloration around the landing site is like the result of dust and dirt being kicked up during the sky crane maneuver.

Critical to this bold landing scheme was preventing each piece of discarded equipment from hitting the rover. According to the Universe Today, the mission's planners were quite successful as the parachute and back shell are some 2,000 feet away from Curiosity, the sky crane about 2,100 feet away; and the heat shield is some 4,000 feet away.

Curiosity is already beginning to send back a few images of its surroundings, and the MRO team has said that they'll continue to capture images of the mission below. While the most dramatic portion of the mission has concluded, the real work has yet to begin.

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