NASA Rover Curiosity Lands: Wheels Down On Mars [VIDEO]

By Amir Khan on August 6, 2012 10:05 AM EDT

Curiosity
Curiosity, NASA's largest and most advanced rover ever to be sent to another planet, touched down on Mars early Monday morning without any incidents. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Curiosity, NASA's largest and most advanced rover ever to be sent to another planet, touched down on Mars early Monday morning without any incidents. Upon touchdown, the control room erupted into fits of jubilation that their project survived the landing, which officials called "seven minutes of terror."

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The $2.5 billion project is the "Super Bowl of planetary exploration," Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, said. The mission will last for one Martian year -- approximately 2 Earth years -- but scientists hope the mission will last far longer than that.

Seven minutes before landing, the Mars Science Laboratory began its descent on to the red planet. Falling at 13,200 MPH, the rover ejected weights and shifted its balance to become more wing-like. Then, small thrusters put it through a series of S-turns to slow its descent.

Curiosity's heat shield protected it from temperatures up to 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Approximately 7 miles above the Mars surface, the rover deployed its parachute and drifted down. At 1:32 a.m. EST, NASA officials received confirmation that the rover made it safe and sound.

"It looks, at least to my eyeballs, that we landed on a nice flat spot," Adam Steltzner, the engineer in charge of drawing up the landing, told NBC News. "Beautiful, really beautiful,"

President Obama issued a congratulations via Twitter late last night.

"Tonight, on planet Mars, the United States of America made history. I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality," he said.

Charles Bolden, a NASA administrator, said the landings bodes well for President Obama's goal of landing a man on Mars by 2030.

"The wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars," he said, according to NBC News.

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