|In this image from NASA TV, shot off a video screen, one of the first images from a second batch of images sent from the Curiosity rover is pictured of its wheel after it successfully landed on Mars. (Photo:Reuters)|
NASA has received first two images from Martian surface taken by newly landed curiosity rover.
The Mars science rover Curiosity landed on the Martian surface shortly after 10:30 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday (Monday/0530 GMT) to begin a two-year mission seeking evidence the Red Planet once hosted ingredients for life, NASA said.
Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles said they received signals relayed by a Martian orbiter confirming that the rover had survived a make-or-break descent and landing attempt to touch down as planned inside a vast impact crater. NASA has described the feat as perhaps the most complex ever in robotic spaceflight.
The $2.5 billion Curiosity project, formally called the Mars Science Laboratory, is NASA's first astrobiology mission since the 1970s-era Viking probes. The landing, a major victory for a US space agency beleaguered by budget cuts and the recent loss of its space shuttle program, was greeted with raucous applause and tears of joy by jubilant engineers and scientists at mission control.
The Mars rover Curiosity, on a quest for signs the Red Planet once hosted ingredients for life, closed in on fringe of the Martian atmosphere on Sunday for a make-or-break landing attempt that NASA calls one of the toughest feats of robotic spaceflight.
Curiosity, the first full-fledged mobile science laboratory sent to a distant world, was scheduled to touch down inside a vast, ancient impact crater on Sunday at 10:31 p.m. Pacific time (Monday/0531 GMT on Monday).
Mission control engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles acknowledge that delivering the one-ton, six-wheeled, nuclear-powered vehicle in one piece is a highly risky proposition, with zero margin for error.
But less than an hour away from Curiosity's rendezvous with Mars, JPL's team said the spacecraft and its systems were functioning flawlessly, and forecasts called for favorable Martian weather over the landing zone.
After a journey from Earth of more than 350 million miles (567 million km), engineers said they were hopeful the rover, the size of a small sports car, will land precisely as planned near the foot of a tall mountain rising from the floor of Gale Crater in Mars' southern hemisphere.
"We're rationally confident, emotionally terrified," Adam Seltzner, leader of Curiosity's descent and landing team, told reporters at a JPL briefing early on Sunday, as the spacecraft hurtled to within 100,000 miles (161,000 km) of its destination - less than half the distance between Earth and the moon.
The vessel was sailing through space at about 8,000 miles (13,000 km) per hour and steadily gaining speed from the tug of Martian gravity. As of 9:30 p.m. Pacific, the spacecraft was reported about a less than 9,000 miles (14,500 km) from the planet.
Flight controllers anticipated clear and calm conditions for touchdown, slated to occur in the Martian late afternoon. There may be some haze in the planet's pink skies from ice clouds, typical for this time of year, with temperatures at about 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 12 Celsius).