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ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS, NASA (USA)

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PASADENA - The NASA Curiosity robotic exploration vehicle successfully landed on Mars early on Monday morning at 5:30 a.m. GMT, a historic event that prompted relief and excitement within the scientific community. The Curiosity rover will spend the next two years looking for traces of life on the red planet.

No photo or it didn't happen? Well lookee here, I'm casting a shadow on the ground in Mars' Gale crater #MSLtwitter.com/MarsCuriosity/…

— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) August 6, 2012

The Associated Press reports that mission controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California cheered and applauded when they received confirmation that the small car-sized robot had successfully touched down (watch the video below to see the harrowing wait, followed by an explosion of joy at the 3mn mark). NASA has landed only seven vehicles on Mars, and the complex attempts often fail.

Curiosity is equipped with an array of tools - including a power drill, a laser that zaps rocks and a chemical laboratory - to analyze Martian rock and soil samples and determine whether they contain the basic chemical ingredients of life, such as carbon or nitrogen.

The landing followed a complex sequence detailed below by NASA. After eight months of space travel over 566 million kilometers, Curiosity used a combination of a protective capsule, a supersonic parachute, a jet-powered backpack and a never-before-used "sky crane" to slow down its initial entry speed of 13,000 miles per hour and land in the Gale crater basin, Reuters reports. The Gale crater was picked because it showed signs of past water.

[rebelmouse-image 27085936 alt="""" original_size="2968x2063" expand=1]

The landing is good news for the space agency, which spent $2.5 billion on the rover but is still debating whether it can afford another Mars landing after new budget cuts.

Curiosity has a dedicated Twitter feed for regular updates on the mission. The first color photographs are expected in the next few days.

It once was one small step... now it's six big wheels. Here's a look at one of them on the soil of Mars #MSLtwitter.com/MarsCuriosity/…

— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) August 6, 2012

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