Nasa delight as rover Curiosity touches down on Mars
Sophisticated lab has landed safely on the red planet and is already sending back data
NASA's robot rover vehicle Curiosity successfully landed on Mars this morning and has already begun sending back pictures (above) from the surface of the red planet. The sophisticated laboratory-on-wheels touched down in the Gale Crater at around 6.15am, after a landing that Nasa scientists described as "seven minutes of terror".
As Curiosity hurtled towards Mars it had to slow from a speed of 13,000mph to a near standstill. The one-tonne vehicle, which is the size of a car, was then lowered onto the surface of the planet from the mothership using a 'skycrane' to avoid creating too much dust.
Once the rover was on the planet's surface the nylon strings were cut and the mission was accomplished. There were scenes of jubilation at Nasa headquarters after the landing was declared a success. There was even a tweet from the rover which announced: "I'm safely on the surface of Mars."
US President Barack Obama was among the first to praise the team. He tweeted: "I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality."
Amy Willis of The Daily Telegraph writes: "The implications of the success of this landing are vast. The technology aboard this craft could potentially carry mankind to Mars one day... The precision involved in this landing has been compared to hitting a hole-in-one with a golf ball from Los Angeles to Scotland. And they did it."
BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos explains: "This is the fourth rover Nasa has put on Mars, but its scale and sophistication dwarf all previous projects."
The rover is equipped with tools, including drills and a laser, to analyse rock samples within the Gale Crater, which is more than 5km high. Its aim is to establish whether microbial life could have existed on Mars at a time when liquid water was present on the planet's surface.
The mission could last years, thanks to the longevity of the rover. "Initially, the rover is funded for two years of operations. But many expect this mission to roll and roll for perhaps a decade or more," reports Amos.