(CNN) -- NASA's $2.6 billion rover, Curiosity, carried out a challenging landing on Mars early Monday after traveling hundreds of millions of miles through space in order to explore the Red Planet.
The SUV-sized Curiosity made its dramatic arrival on Martian terrain in a spectacle popularly known as the "seven minutes of terror."
This jaw-dropping landing process, involving a sky crane and the world's largest supersonic parachute, allowed the spacecraft carrying Curiosity to target the landing area that scientists had meticulously chosen.
The mission control in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California burst into cheers as the rover touched down. Team members hugged and high-fived one another as Curiosity beamed back the first pictures from the planet, some shed tears.
"Rationally I know it was supposed to work all along, but emotionally it always seemed completely crazy," said James Wray, assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, who is affiliated with the Curiosity science team of Curiosity. "So to see all those steps being ticked off and actually working, it's a huge relief."
The spacecraft had been traveling away from Earth since November 26 on a journey of approximately 352 million miles (567 million kilometers), according to NASA.
The vehicle, which will be controlled from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has a full suite of sophisticated tools for exploring Mars. They include 17 cameras, a laser that can survey the composition of rocks from a distance and instruments that can analyze samples from soil or rocks.
The aim of its work is "to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms," NASA says. If all goes according to plan, Curiosity's first stop will be Gale Crater, which may have once contained a lake.
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