Engineers who designed the daredevil landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars described it as "crazy," "terrifying" and "unprecedented."
Here's one more adjective they can now add: successful.
Early Monday NASA safely dropped the 1-ton rover, the largest ever, on the surface of Mars. The space agency now has a mobile chemical laboratory the size of a Volkswagen Beetle patrolling the surface of the Red Planet.
The challenge engineers faced was immense, slowing the spacecraft carrying Curiosity from a speed of 13,000 mph to zero in seven minutes, all the while flying through an atmosphere just 1 percent the thickness of Earth's. Half of the landers previously sent to Mars failed.
But not this time.
The mission control room erupted at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory half an hour after midnight Monday morning -- arms raised, cheers and hugs all around -- as it became clear that Curiosity landed safely.
A few minutes later, the first images came in, showing one of Curiosity's wheels under a late afternoon sun.
"Surface team, our fun has begun," declared Mike Watkins, a mission manager for the rover.
Space Center party
At Space Center Houston, just before the landing, a mock-up of the rover descended from the ceiling under disco lights. As speakers blared Kanye West's song Champion, the crowd of 1,500 began a jubilant celebration. For a harried U.S. space program, Monday morning's landing was full of win.
Five times the size of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers already on Mars, Curiosity is packed with scientific equipment: HD-resolution cameras that can capture video; a laser than can ignite a spark on rocks 20 feet away to determine what they're made of; and other high-tech tools including an X-ray diffraction setup, a mass spectrometer and a gas chromatograph.
With these devices the six-wheeled rover will be able to sample hundreds of layers of sedimentary rock, allowing scientists to understand how the surface of Mars changed over time, and providing a detailed history of the Red Planet and clues to whether life could have flourished there.
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