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NASA's Curiosity rover lands safely on Mars

After years of development, billions of dollars of investment, and a 36-week journey, NASA’s Curiosity rover has finally landed on Mars.

“Touchdown confirmed,” said Allen Chen, the NASA engineer providing commentary, at 6:32 GMT.

"I'm safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!!" the Curiosity tweeted.

The rover, which is about the size of a car and runs on electricity generated from a mass of plutonium, landed on Mars’ surface after what NASA described as “seven minutes of terror” that included withstanding temperatures of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit and gravity pull at speeds of some 20,000 km/h.

The unprecedented landing involved the Curiosity being lowered into Mars’ atmosphere in a capsule, a parachute being deployed, and the rover eventually being dropped safely onto the surface of the Red Planet.

Minutes after its landing, the Curiosity sent back a couple of grainy images from Mars, showing the planet’s surface and the rover’s shadow in a Martian crater.

But the outer space enthusiasts among us will have to exercise patience - the literally ground-breaking exploration will be slow going. Before taking its first drive in a few weeks’ time, NASA will have to monitor the rover as it activates its primary antenna and deploys a mast carrying cameras, a rock-vaporising laser, and other instruments essential to its mission.

The Curiosity could scoop its first soil Sample as of mid-September, while its first attempt at drilling rock will likely happen later in the year, perhaps as of October or November.

“In the foreground, you can see a gravel field,” NASA project scientist John P. Grotzinger said of one of the images sent back. “The question is, where does this gravel come from? It is the first of what will be many scientific questions to come from our new home on Mars.”