The European Space Agency probe Rosetta has made a fly-by of Mars in a crucial navigational maneuver needed to complete its 10-year voyage to a distant comet.
Mission controllers say the probe swung around Mars early Sunday, passing 250 kilometers from its surface. The spacecraft used the red planet's gravity to change course and gain speed.
Rosetta, which lifted off from French Guiana in 2004, is due to make two more gravitational course changes before its scheduled rendezvous with the (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) comet in 2014.
Plans call for the $1.3 billion Rosetta to orbit the five kilometer-long chunk of ice and deploy a small lander that will touch down and attempt to drill into the surface of the ice for analysis.
Scientists say they hope the analysis will help them learn more about how the solar system was formed billions of years ago.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.