DENVER (CBS4) – There was great excitement at NASA and several Colorado companies Monday morning after off one of the most complicated space missions ever, and the one-ton Mars rover named “Curiosity” is already sending back its first pictures.

Curiosity left Earth last November and traveled 352 million miles to reach the red planet, and Colorado companies were involved in the incredible mission in some way, shape or form. The rover, protective shell and all, was launched into space on a rocket built by a Colorado company.

Colorado companies were also responsible for the protective shell the rover wore, a lowering mechanism, and a scientific instrument on board the rover that will play a key role in the future.

Scot Rafkin with the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder is one Colorado scientist with a tremendous investment in Curiosity. His company designed and built a radiation assessment detector that will play a key role during the next two years of data collection.

“It’s sort of a dream come true. It’s something that a lot us of worked our whole lifetime for,” Rafkin said. “To prepare for eventually human exploration of Mars, and to do that we need to understand the radiation environment that astronauts would be subjected to.”

Other Colorado companies are equally as invested in the project. United Launch Alliance built the rocket that carried the rover into space. The protective shell — or the aeroshell — designed to protect the rover from burning up in the atmosphere was built by rocket scientists at Lockheed Martin. The lowering mechanism was designed by Sierra Nevada Corporation.

Curiosity landed in a giant crater where the voyage will begin. It will be packed with collecting and transmitting data — all to essentially discover if Mars supported, or could support life.

Two satellites will orbit Mars, also the work of Lockheed Martin. They will receive data and transmit it back to Earth.

Curiosity will be able to send back high-resolution, color images. Its mission is one Martian year, which is just about two years on Earth.


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