NASA scientists and astronomers across the world are celebrating after successfully landing the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars.
Describing the landing as perhaps the most complex achieved in robotic space flight, the Mars landing — the product of eight years of planning and eight months of interplanetary travel, according to NBC — was live-blogged around the world.
It was also watched live by a huge crowd who turned out at 1 a.m. in Times Square, New York:
In case anyone wondered if people would show up in Times Square at 1am on a sunday night to watch a robot land on Mars. twitter.com/bluemilker/sta… — Blue Milker (@bluemilker) August 6, 2012
A proud Commander in Chief tweeted:
"Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history."—President Obama — Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 6, 2012
Citing NASA, Reuters reported that Curiosity landed on the Martian surface shortly after 10:30 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday (1:30 a.m. EDT Monday) to begin a two-year search for signs of life on the Red Planet.
Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at La Cañada Flintridge, near Los Angeles, cheered after receiving signals relayed by the Mars orbiter, Odyssey, confirming that the rover had survived the seven-minute descent and touched down within its landing zone, Reuters wrote.
"Touchdown confirmed," declared the leader of the rover's descent and landing team, Allen Chen. "We're safe on Mars."
Because of the immense distance involved, radio signals confirming the landing took 14 minutes to reach the Earth.
Moments later, Curiosity beamed back its first three images from the Martian surface, one of them showing a wheel of the vehicle.
"We have thumbnails!" Chen said. "I can't believe this. This is unbelievable."
The landing involved the nuclear-powered Curiosity, the size of a small car, plummeting through the atmosphere at 13,000 miles per hour (21,000 kph).
A parachute and then a rocket pack deployed helped lower the one-ton vehicle to the surface near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater — 154 million miles from Earth.
Science Daily wrote that: "The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack."
USA Today reported that Curiosity would use 10 instruments to probe areas of Mars and determine whether the "chemical ingredients" are favorable for life.
It has also tracked radiation levels during its journey, to determine the risks astronauts could face on a future manned trip.
Science Daily quoted NASA Administrator Charles Bolden as saying: "Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars.
"Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars — or if the planet can sustain life in the future.
"This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030s, and today's landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal."