PASADENA, California (CNN)—A NASA robotic explorer touched down on the red planet Saturday night, sending a signal home that it survived the risky descent through the Martian atmosphere and bouncing landing.
The $400 million rover Spirit, designed to conduct unprecedented geologic and photographic surveys on the Martian surface, transmitted a simple hello to Earth within minutes after landing, which took place just after 11:30 p.m. ET.
The golf cart-sized Spirit went through what NASA assistant administrator Ed Weiler characterized as "six minutes from hell"—the time it took to enter the Martian atmosphere, descend and land in Gusev Crater.
During the descent, Spirit deployed parachutes and fire retrorockets to decelerate. Seconds before impact, it inflated a protective cocoon of airbags.
The exuberance of the scientists in the photo accompanying this story is infectious. I remember the joy I felt when the first Mars rover landed successfully in 1997—so cool!