NASA's Mars science rover 'Curiosity' has landed successfully on the Red Planet's surface after a 352-million mile journey from earth that lasted eight months, the U.S. space agency confirmed early on Monday.
According to mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles, the nuclear-powered rover touched down on Mars shortly after 10:30 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday (0530 GMT).
NASA said the signals relayed to earth by an overflying satellite 'Odyssey' confirmed that the rover had survived the high-risk descent and landed safely inside a vast impact crater known as Gale Crater.
Scientists are depending on Odyssey to relay the signals from Curiosity as the earth will be below the Mars horizon from Curiosity's perspective. Currently, the Red Planet is on the far side of the sun from earth, some 154 million miles (1.7 astronomical units) away.
As the rover will not be in direct radio contact with earth, Odyssey and another orbiter will continuously record and relay Curiosity's transmissions to earth. But that data will not be available on earth until hours later.
NASA had earlier described Curiosity's planned make-or-break decent and landing using fully automated maneuvers as one of the most complex procedures ever attempted in robotic spaceflight.
Curiosity's entire landing procedure reportedly took seven minutes, during which the rover, tucked inside a protective shell, made the landing after touching a speed of about 13,000 mph (20,920 kph) at the beginning of the drop.
The rover will now begin a two-year mission that involves seeking evidence to determine whether Mars could have supported microbial life. It will soon begin analyzing samples of soil, rocks and atmosphere on Mars using its sophisticated chemistry and geology instruments and beaming results back to scientists on earth.
Curiosity, formally called the Mars Science Laboratory, is the largest and most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet. It is equipped with a science payload weighing 15 times more than that the science instruments on previous Mars rovers.
The spacecraft was launched on its Mars trip on November 26, 2011. It took the rover nearly 8-1/2 months to make the arduous journey to the Red Planet. The entire project is estimated to cost at least $2.5 billion. Incidentally, it is the U.S. space agency's first astrobiology mission since the 1970s-era Viking probes.
by RTT Staff Writer
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