The Curiosity rover landed safely on Mars early this morning, prompting whoops of joy and relief in NASA's mission control center, reports the New York Times. The rover quickly beamed back a picture of its own shadow cast on the surface of the Red Planet. "Touchdown confirmed. We are safe on the surface of Mars!" the team read out after receiving signals from the rover.
After a journey of 354 million miles, the rover, which is much bigger and more complex than previous models, had to land in a new way that could never be fully tested on Earth, leading to what control room staff described as "seven minutes of terror" before confirmation was received, notes the Washington Post. As earlier reported, the spacecraft ferrying it had to rely on a supersonic parachute to slow it from 13,200mph to about 1.7mph; with seconds to go, the rover was then lowered to the surface using three nylon tethers and retro rockets.
In this handout image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech, one of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars on the evening of August 5, 2012 PDT and transmitted to Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The MSL Rover named Curiosity is equipped with a nuclear-powered lab capable of vaporizing rocks and ingesting soil, measuring habitability, and whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbe. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech via Getty Images)