After an eight month journey NASA's nuclear-powered Mars rover Curiosity has landed safely. The rover is to embark on an ambitious mission to uncover whether the planet could once have supported life.
The Mars science rover Curiosity landed on the Martian surface shortly after 0530 GMT on Monday.
It is to begin a two-year mission seeking evidence that there was once life on the Red Planet.
Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles said they received signals relayed by a Martian orbiter confirming that the rover had survived the landing and had touched down as planned inside a crater.
"Touchdown confirmed," said a member of mission control as the room erupted in cheers.
"I can't believe this. This is unbelievable," said Allen Chen, deputy leader of the rover's team for descent and landing as three pictures of Mars' rocky terrain were received at mission control.
Celebrations around the world
Five hundred scientists, students and space enthusiasts were watching the landing at the European Space Agency's mission agency base in Darmstadt, Germany. And in the Unites States, including New York's Times Square, fans gathered to watch a live broadcast. American President Barack Obama referred to the landing as “an unprecedented feat of technology."
"The successful landing of Curiosity -the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet- marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future," Obama said in a statement.
NASA has described the Curiosity mission, formally known as the Mars Science Laboratory, which cost 2.5 billion dollars (two billion euros), as the most complex ever in robotic spaceflight. This is because earlier rover landing manoeuvres have always been carried out with much smaller rover models.
The rover was first launched in November and will, for the next two years, penetrate rocks and soil on Mars' surface in search of ingrediants necessary for supporting life, such as carbon. It will also study minerals to build a picture of what life on the planet resembled a millions of years ago.
The project is NASA's first astrobiology mission since the 1970s-era Viking probes.
sej/rg (Reuters, AFP)