Cheers and applause echoed through the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena on late Sunday after the robotic explorer Curiosity signaled it had survived a harrowing plunge through the thin Mars atmosphere.
The most high-tech interplanetary rover ever built touched down on the Martian surface inside of a giant crater after a tricky landing routine that included a series of braking tricks, a heat shield and a supersonic parachute.
The NASA engineer who led the team that devised the landing says the rover "landed in a nice flat spot." Adam Steltzner called the successful landing "really beautiful."
Within minutes of landing, Curiosity also beamed back the first black-and-white pictures from inside the crater showing its wheel and its shadow, cast by the afternoon sun.
Celebrations by the mission team were so joyous over the next hour that JPL Director Charles Elachi had to plead for calm in order to hold a post-landing press conference. He compared the team to athletic teams that participate in the Olympics.
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