The U.S. space agency, NASA, says its Mars Science Laboratory has made a successful landing on the red planet.
There will be several weeks of testing before NASA turns Curiosity loose to roam about the Martian surface, looking for signs that the planet once might have had conditions suitable to support life.
But first the scientists and engineers at the Joint Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles did a little celebrating.
NASA described Curiosity’s plunge through the Martian atmosphere as “seven minutes of terror,” but the landing, which engineers said was the most complex ever attempted, proceeded flawlessly.
Moments after touchdown the craft sent a picture back to Earth, showing one of its six wheels on the planet’s surface.
Curiosity will spend the next two years analyzing rock samples, weather and radiation levels to see whether conditions on Mars have been favorable for microbial life. President Barack Obama praised the efforts that took Curiosity to Mars.
In a statement Monday, Obama said the landing made history. He called it “an unprecedented feat of technology”.
White House science adviser John Holdren says the Obama administration is committed to continuing America’s leadership here on Earth and throughout the solar system.
“Landing the MSL rover Curiosity on the surface of the Red Planet was by any measure the most challenging mission ever attempted in the history of robotic planetary exploration,” Holdren said. “And if anybody has been harboring doubts about the status of U.S. leadership in space, there is a one-ton automobile-sized piece of ingenuity, and it is sitting on the surface of Mars, right now, and it should certainly put any such doubts to rest.”
The nuclear powered rover will spend two years drilling into rocks and scooping up soil to analyze. Scientists hope to determine whether the Martian environment could have supported life in the form of microscopic organisms.