The camera aboard the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter shot this image of the still connected to its 51-foot-wide parachute as it descended toward its landing site at Gale Crater, JPL has announced.
If the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera had snapped the shot one second earleir or later, folks probably would be looking at an empty Martian landscape," Sarah Milkovich, HiRISE investigation scientist at NASA's said in a prepared statement.
"When you consider that we have been working on this sequence since March and had to upload commands to the spacecraft about 72 hours prior to the image being taken, you begin to realize how challenging this picture was to obtain,'' Milkovich said.
Following a 36-week, 154-million-mile journey capped by , the rover Curiosity spent its first full day on Mars Monday. The two-year $2.5 billion mission is designed to determine if the Red Planet ever supported life, and if it can do so in the future.
The parachute image was taken while MRO was 211 miles away from the parachuting rover. Curiosity and its rocket-propelled backpack, contained within the conical-shaped back shell, had yet to be deployed. At the time, Curiosity was about two miles above the Martian surface.
"Guess you could consider us the closest thing to paparazzi on Mars," Milkovich said in a press release. "We definitely caught NASA's newest celebrity in the act."
Curiosity, NASA's latest contribution to the Martian landscape, landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 on Aug. 6, EDT) near the foot of a mountain three miles tall inside Gale Crater, 96 miles in diameter.
One part of the rover team at the JPL continues to analyze the data from Sunday's landing, while another continues to prepare the one-ton mobile lab for its future explorations of Gale Crater. A key assignment given to Curiosity for its first full day on Mars is to raise its high-gain antenna. Using this antenna will increase the data rate at which the rover can communicate directly with Earth.
Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, according to the JPL website. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance.
Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance to layers of the crater's interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.
The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.
For more information on the mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/mars and http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl