IT TOOK EIGHT years of hard work, more than €2 billion, and just a bit of luck but NASA’s Curiosity probe finally touched down on the surface of Mars in the early hours of this morning.
The one-ton rover reached the service just after 6.30am Irish time to scenes of mass jubilation at the mission’s control room in Pasadena in California.
“Touchdown confirmed,” said engineer Allen Chen. “We’re safe on Mars”.
US President Barack Obama thanked the NASA employees who had made the “remarkable accomplishment a reality”. ”Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history,” he tweeted.
One NASA worker described the “seven minutes of terror” as the rover attempted to make its landing after entering the Martian atmosphere.
The most difficult part of the operation was when Curiosity had to stabilise before an overhead crane placed it onto the Martian soil in an operation that had never before been conducted.
The car-sized robot will spend the next 98 weeks on a mission to search for signs of life on the Red Planet.
Scientists have previously found signs that water existed on the planet, suggesting that some form of life may have existed on Earth’s nearest neighbour at some point in the past.
The Curiosity rover will continue to tweet its activities from its Twitter account – manned by employees of the Mars Science Laboratory - which has accumulated more than half a million followers since it started its journey more than nine months ago.
Understandably the people who worked on the project were jubilant. Here’s how things looked at the control room in Pasadena in California as news came through that Curiosity had touched down: