The NASA rover Curiosity landed on Mars tonight, setting off cheers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which guided the car-sized traveler 154 miles to the red planet in search of signs of life.
The landing was confirmed shortly at 10:31 p.m., according to NASA:
NASA's Curiosity rover has landed on Mars! Its descent-stage retrorockets fired, guiding it to the surface. Nylon cords lowered the rover to the ground in the "sky crane" maneuver. When the spacecraft sensed touchdown, the connecting cords were severed, and the descent stage flew out of the way. The time of day at the landing site is mid-afternoon -- about 3 p.m. local Mars time ...
JPL officials issued this tweet:
I'm safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!!
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) August 6, 2012
NASA says that the main assignment of Curiosity, billed as the most sophisticated spacecraft to probe another planet, "is to investigate whether its study area ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life."
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[Added at 11:25 p.m.]: During a news conference streamed on the web, NASA chief Charles F. Bolden said this:
The wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on mars ... This is an amazing acheievement.