PASADENA, California (Reuters) – NASA’s Mars science rover Curiosity performed a daredevil descent through pink Martian skies late on Sunday to clinch an historic landing inside an ancient crater, ready to search for signs the Red Planet may once have harbored key ingredients for life.
Mission controllers burst into applause and cheers as they received signals confirming that the car-sized rover had survived a perilous seven-minute descent NASA called the most elaborate and difficult feat in the annals of robotic spaceflight.
Engineers said the tricky landing sequence, combining a giant parachute with a rocket-pack that lowered the rover to the Martian surface on a tether, allowed for zero margin for error.
“I can’t believe this. This is unbelievable,” enthused Allen Chen, the deputy head of the rover’s descent and landing team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles.
Moments later, Curiosity beamed back its first three images from the Martian surface, one of them showing a wheel of the vehicle and the rover’s shadow cast on the rocky terrain.
NASA put the official landing time of Curiosity, touted as the first full-fledged mobile science laboratory sent to a distant world, at 10:32 p.m. Pacific time (1:32 a.m. EDT/0532 GMT).