A U.S. spacecraft has landed on Mars to begin a three-month search for traces of ancient water.
After a seven month journey, the Spirit spacecraft endured a fiery descent through 130 kilometers of Martian atmosphere to land on target in a crater near the red planet's equator.
Spirit deployed a parachute and fired braking rockets to slow its 19 thousand kilometers an hour entry speed. After bouncing along the ground on cushioning airbags for several minutes, the lander emitted strong tones confirming a safe landing.
Navigation team member Louis D'Amario equated the precision landing to threading a needle from 25 kilometers away.
Mr. D'Amario said,"This is essentially perfect navigation. This is hitting the bullseye."
After a week or more of engineering and scientific tasks, the lander is to release a six-wheeled rover, which ground controllers will maneuver to rocks in the vicinity.
Instruments will look inside the rocks for evidence of past water and signs that Mars was habitable by simple forms of life.
An identical U.S. lander is trailing three weeks behind to perform the same water search on the opposite side of Mars.