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Mars Rover Accomplishes Precise Landing - 2004-01-04

U.S. space agency officials say the Mars space rover should return it's first color pictures of the surface of the Red Planet Monday after the space probe landed precisely where they had hoped.

NASA officials continue to be amazed and delighted with the landing of the Mars Rover. Steven Squyres is principal scientific investigator for the Mars mission. "Boy, I'd say we nailed it," he said.

At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory outside Los Angeles, engineers and scientists cheered as the rover, named Spirit, touched down on Mars after a seven-month, 483 million kilometer trek. Photos show the Martian surface is covered with small rocks.

Mr. Squyres, an astronomer at Cornell University, said of the first images of the Martian surface, "to me, to my eye, remarkably devoid of big boulders, at least in our immediate vicinity. And that's just glorious news, because big boulders are something we have trouble driving over."

Mr. Squyres says wind storms blasted away dirt and debris from the small rocks so that's one less thing the rover has to do to keep from getting stuck.

Officials say the rover will stay put for nine days to make sure all of the equipment is working as it's supposed to before it moves to other locations. The vehicle will collect rocks and analyze them for evidence of water, an essential ingredient for life.

The mission is scheduled to last at least ninety days.