I stayed up and saw the NASA feed from the landing of Curiosity. When you read up on what was planned for this, it really reads like a Rube Goldberg project: Not only did the lander experience controlled flight in the Martian atmosphere, but the rather large rover was lowered from a hovering craft onto the ground using a crane mechanism. Honestly, that makes the whole landing in a giant inflatable ball thing seem pretty simple, especially considering this thing was easily more than double the mass of any of the previous rovers that had been landed there before.
There have been a number of successes and failures in getting to Mars over the last few decades, but the landing went exactly as predicted, with the first pictures beamed back almost immediately. Nothing dramatic, yet (the dust cover of the camera was understandably dusty). However, it was another proud moment for the space program and human exploration in general. At the moment the telemetry confirmed a touchdown, it would have been hard to distinguish the control room from any locker room of any team after winning their championship.
This is the first mission that will have as its highest mission goal the detection of past or current life on Mars. No previous lander will have had as advanced instrumentation to accomplish this.
I am excited … I hope that this mission is successful.
Edit 8/6/2012: In case you haven’t seen it, this is the scene in the control room at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena (T.N’s old stomping grounds). At this point, the solar system’s strongest parachute has opened to slow down the craft (no much of an atmosphere, sot it had to be very big and very strong). You will hear that the craft is slowing, and that it is using radar to find a smooth landing surface, the thrusters engaging for flight (I’m not sure but this may be the first time a spce craft is engaging in free flight on another planet) and you will hear that the crane has engaged lowering the lander. After “towuchdown confirmed” that it is when the Super Bowl locker room show occurs. Shortly after the hugging and cheering, the first thumbnail images arrive to confirm that all of the telemetry was correct.