The Curiosity rover landed successfully on the surface of Mars, where for the next two years it will carry out investigations to discover if there was ever life on the Red Planet or whether there ever could be.
Word of "touchdown confirmed...we're safe on Mars" from engineer Allen Chen was greeted with cheers and hugs at the control room of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Pasadena, California.
The 1-ton robotic device the size of a car reached Mars after traveling 567 million kilometers (352 million miles) in eight months and 17 days, and as it came in to land in the most frighteningly complex maneuver ever attempted with a planetary rover, NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld said that the "Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph. My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by the overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission's team."
"Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement from the White House, adding that it "marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future."
From its entry into the atmosphere of Mars at 21,500 kilometers per hour (13,400 mph), the capsule was a "transformer" that in 420 seconds went from being a cone enveloped in temperatures of almost 900 C (1,650 F) to becoming a crane floating on a pack of eight rockets, only to change again into something like a mechanical spider landing gently at the foot of a mountain inside Gale Crater on Mars.
The explorer touched down at 0518 GMT but signals from the Red Planet took 14 minutes to reach Earth.
NASA was able to follow the capsule carrying the Curiosity as it came in to land by means of two other devices for Martian exploration - the $297-million Mars Odyssey orbiter launched in 2001 and the $720-million Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of 2006.
The Curiosity with its payload of the latest instruments will measure land and air temperature, pressure, humidity and ultraviolet radiation, and has an antenna for sending data that will put the rover in direct contact with Earth.
For its $2.5-billion mission the Curiosity is fitted with 10 scientific instruments, much larger and more sophisticated than those of its two predecessors to Mars, the rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
"Tonight's success, delivered by NASA, parallels our major steps forward towards a vision for a new partnership with American companies to send American astronauts into space on American spacecraft," Obama said. EFE