PASADENA — The US space agency has just landed a huge new robot rover on Mars.
The one-tonne vehicle, known as Curiosity, was reported to have landed in a deep crater near the planet’s equator at 05:32 GMT.
It will now embark on a mission of at least two years to look for evidence that Mars may once have supported life.
A signal confirming the rover was on the ground safely was relayed to Earth via Nasa’s Odyssey satellite, which is in orbit around the Red Planet.
The success was greeted with a roar of approval here at mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Picture from Curiosity rover The first pictures from Mars began to be fed back immediately; high-resolution images will come later
Within minutes, the robot was returning its first low-resolution images – showing us its wheels and views to the horizon. A first colour image of Curiosity’s surroundings should be returned in the next couple of days.
Engineers and scientists who have worked on this project for the best part of 10 years punched the air and hugged each other.
The rover’s Twitter feed announced: “I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!!”
The descent through the atmosphere after a 570-million-km journey from Earth had been billed as the “seven minutes of terror” – the time it would take to complete a series of high-risk, automated manoeuvres that would slow the rover from an entry speed of 20,000km/h to allow its wheels to set down softly.
The Curiosity team had to wait 13 tense minutes for the signals from Odyssey and the lander to make their way back to Earth.
Data suggested the vehicle had hit the surface of Mars at a gentle 0.6m/s.
“It looked at least with my eyeball that we landed in a nice flat spot. Beautiful,” said Adam Steltzner, who led the descent operation. (BBC)