The Curiosity rover was poised to hit the top of the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph.
With Curiosity on autopilot, engineers became spectators, anxiously waiting to see if Curiosity executes the routine as planned.
“I’m not the nervous type, but I haven’t been sleeping all that well the last week or so even though I’m still very confident,” said engineer Steven Lee.
NASA was ready for the “Super Bowl of planetary exploration,” said Doug McCuistion, head of the Mars exploration program at NASA headquarters.
“We score and win or we don’t score and we don’t win,” said McCuistion.
The touchdown attempt was especially intense because NASA was testing a brand new landing technique. Due to the communication delay between Mars and Earth, Curiosity was on autopilot. There was also an extra pressure because budget woes have forced NASA to rejigger its Mars exploration roadmap.