Hundreds of people gathered in the middle of the night on Sunday in the heart of the city that never sleeps to watch a robotic rover land on the surface of Mars.
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover came in for a landing inside the Red Planet's Gale Crater at 10:17 p.m. PDT Sunday (1:17 a.m. EDT Monday). Because of the distance between Earth and Mars, a signal that the landing had occurred reached Earth about 14 minutes later.
Around 1,000 people were gathered to watch NASA's live broadcast of Curiosity's landing in New York City's Times Square, where footage was being shown on the giant Toshiba Vision LED television screen.
"There was a fairly good turn-out despite the occasional sprinkles of rain, and people cheered when MSL landed and chanted NASA! NASA!" said Leslie Mullen, editor of NASA's Astrobiology Magazine, who watched from Times Square. "Then a few people sang the National Anthem."
The jubilation in Times Square mirrored the scene at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where the rover was built and where its mission management team is based. Scientists there cheered, hugged and cried when the risky landing went off seemingly without a hitch.
Curiosity, a 1-ton Mini Cooper-size rover, is the largest machine ever sent to another planet. To get the vehicle to the Martian surface safely, NASA devised a novel system involving a hovering "Sky Crane" that lowered the rover to the ground via tethers.
The audacious feat appeared to play out as planned, and within minutes of reaching the surface Curiosity was already beaming back its first photos of Mars.
The $2.5 billion rover is now set to begin a two-year mission to search for signs that the Red Planet may have once had the conditions necessary to support microbial life.
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