NASA's Mars Rover Lands Successfully; Sends Images

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israelis joined millions worldwide watching the final moments before the safe landing on Mars by NASA's largest-ever robotic rover, Curiosity, at 8:30 a.m. local time (10:31 p.m. Pacific time).

"It was a good landing," one Jerusalem resident, who followed the landing via the Internet, told CBN News. "It didn't crash and burn. It came in and landed, and we look forward to seeing images when it starts cruising around."

Members of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory tracking the landing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles clapped and cheered when the $2.5 billion vehicle sent back its first three images.

Aided by a supersonic parachute and a sky crane powered by rocket blasters, the six-wheeled vehicle was successfully lowered to the surface by nylon tethers.

Mission controllers said the rover touched down near the foot of a mountain in the planet's southern hemisphere after an eight-month journey across 350 million miles that began at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in November 2011.

For the next two years, the sophisticated vehicular laboratory will collect data from soil and rocks to help scientists to determine if Mars ever supported life. Curiosity's mission could also pave the way for an exploratory trip by astronauts.

The rover's safe landing is a victory for NASA following President Obama's cancellation of the agency's 30-year space shuttle program. The shuttle program ended last summer with the final trip by the Atlantis.

In May 2008, NASA'S Phoenix Mars Lander touched down on the Red Planet. That landing, as the Curiosity's today, was described by mission controllers as "seven minutes of terror."

The Phoenix Lander sent back some spectacular images to help scientists study the planet's surface, described as resembling the Canadian artic.

Peter Smith of the University of Arizona said at the time "it's liquid water we're looking for."

"We know there's ice there, but does the ice melt? That's the real question driving our science," he said.

Scientists hope Curiosity's two-year mission will provide some answers.

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