Where were you on the morning of 6 August last year? Chances are you were among the millions around the world watching the live feed of NASA’s Curiosity rover as it touched down on Mars.
To say that the landing, which was seen by 50 million people in the US alone on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)’s website, was tense is an understatement; after making its 450 million kilometre journey from Earth to Mars, the rover had to decelerate from a speed of 20,000 km/h to zero in just fifteen minutes to effect a safe touchdown onto the Red Planet’s surface. It was by far the most complicated attempt to land on another planet that humans have so far attempted. For Charles Elachi, the head of JPL, the success of Curiosity marks just another step in an astonishing journey that has taken him from the Lebanese town of Zahle, via university in France, to Pasadena, where the JPL is headquartered.
“In a sense, it is a positive thing that reflects on the US…people all around the world look at the US as an exciting, forward-thinking nation, and as we share with all the world what we are doing, it’s not a selfish thing,” Elachi told us last year. “In the end, I usually tell people from wherever they are in the world that it’s not my rover — we’re just the team that built it. It’s yours as well.”