Cheers, hugs and lots of coffee at Mission Control

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The Independent Online
They cheered and they hugged each other and they clapped, writes Rory Johnstone at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. For the men and women at Mission Control it had all paid off: the years of preparation for the lift-off from Earth, followed by months of waiting while the rocket flew 309 million miles, and then the anxious hours and minutes while they waited to hear whether it had survived its bouncing impact with the ground - a compromise solution required because a controlled landing with retro- rockets would be unfeasible, given the 11-minute communications delay.

The dull, windowless room was full of happiness; and then the adrenalin and the coffee began to wear off, and they had to settle back again and wait through three anxious hours on Friday afternoon. When the first signals came through, many clenched their fists over their heads. The pleasure erupted all over again. Oh, to have the coffee franchise for JPL.

Then, when the first pictures came back, the scientists were awestruck. Many were children when Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon, and in university when Viking landed on Mars. "This is nirvana for us space guys," said flight systems manager Brian Muirhead.

"There could not be a happier scientist," said Matthew Golombek, alternatively smiling and gaping at the stunningly clear pictures of the Lander, the Rover and the rocks around it, stretching to the red horizon. "A spectacular place indeed."