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It was billed as seven minutes of terror; a dangerous parachute descent through the thin Martian atmosphere of a car size rover, protected from burning up in the atmosphere only by a thick heat shield and from crashing into the surface by a dramatic firing of a complicated retro rocket system just prior to touchdown. To add to the tension, it all had to be performed automatically (due to the communications time delay), with scientists at the JPL mission watching and waiting in anticipation.

This time and as often the case in the past, NASA got it exactly right! The landing was near faultless and the Curiosity rover settled down as planned in Gale Crater on August 6, 2012 at 05:18 UT.

Curiosity's Heat Shield as imaged by the MARDI camera (NASA)

Now safely on the Martian surface, the first high-resolution colour images of the surroundings have been sent back to Earth by Curiosity. One spectacular image just released, shows the distant wall of Gale Crater with a layer of cobbles and pebbles intermixed with finer Martian dust and material. The image closely resembles some desert views on Earth including parts of southwestern United States and Chile.

Curiosity's hi-res colour image of the wall of Gale crater(NASA)

Of course, Curiosity's mission has only just begun and undoubtedly there will be many more sensational pictures and experimental results to follow.