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Mars from Curiosity: First photos to mission control (UPDATED)

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KPCC reporters had been talking to Southland scientists and engineers and counting down the days until NASA's most ambitious rover yet — Curiosity — prepares to land on the Martian surface. Follow the series online.

With its Google Android shadow and Gabby Douglas landing, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity began sending images of itself in its surroundings within seconds of safely arriving on the surface of the red planet Sunday night/Monday morning.

Within two hours of settling in to its new Martian home, the world's coolest remote control vehicle transmitted to Mission Control — located at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena — a higher resolution image of Gale Crater taken by a Hazard Avoidance Camera (Hazcam).

Other shots show a towering mound they believe to be a three-mile high mountain called Mount Sharp. Both Gale Crater and Mount Sharp are of interest to geologists who can study them for insights into Mars' past.

Clearer, color photos taken from other cameras aboard Curiosity are expected to be beamed back over the next few days.

The first photos are black-and-white shots of what mostly looks like gravel. But Curiosity systems manager Michael Watkins says he sees much more than that.

"It's representative of a new home for the rover, it's representative of a new Mars that we have never seen before," he said. "So every one of those pictures is the most beautiful picture I have ever seen."

More outer-limits images sent from Curiosity via NASA/JPL.

"Curiosity's landing site is beginning to come into focus," said John Grotzinger, project manager of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "In the image, we are looking to the northwest. What you see on the horizon is the rim of Gale Crater. In the foreground, you can see a gravel field. The question is, where does this gravel come from?  It is the first of what will be many scientific questions to come from our new home on Mars."

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain three miles (about five kilometers) tall inside Gale Crater, 96 miles (nearly 155 kilometers) 7in diameter. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.


UPDATED Aug 8, 1:03 p.m. New photos added to the slideshow gallery above including the first high resolution black & white and color images. Is it Mars or the Mojave? You decide. We'll be keeping an eye on the sky and updating the gallery with new images as they fly in.

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