The second Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has made a safe and successful landing on the surface of Mars. Like the landing of the Spirit rover earlier, the Opportunity lander managed to aerobrake through the atmosphere, slow down via parachute, inflate its airbags, bounce on the Martian surface, and then come to a stop.
The Mars Global Surveyor was overhead during the landing procedure, and was able to maintain communication with the rover. At this stage they’re saying that the rover is continuing to roll on the surface.
Gov. Schwarzennegger and former VP Al Gore are at the JPL control center in Pasadena to congratulate the lander control team.
Opportunity is landing in a place like none other in Mars exploration, Meridiani Planum. Unlike the red and dusty plains viewed by Viking, Pathfinder, and Spirit, Meridiani Planum is expected to have very different geology including dark gray terrain and little dust. The area contains hemitite, which is a substance which can come from water.
UPDATE: 3:30 AM CST: Opportunity has returned its first set of images from the Martian surface. They show a topography radically different from the area in which Spirit landed. This is like nowhere else we’ve landed on Mars, and the scientists are salivating over this site…