January 4, 2004
After a 302-million-mile, 7-month journey from Earth, Spirit reaches Mars. Parachutes slow the landing craft as it falls through the atmosphere, and the 24 airbags that completely surround the craft cushion its landing. Spirit successfully lands in a Connecticut-sized basin on Mars named Gusev Crater.
Scientists believe the crater was formed by a massive asteroid or comet collision long ago. Spirit was given this landing site to investigate past and present environmental conditions there. Later photos reveal that a long, deep valley once provided water to Gusev via a hole in the crater’s edge.
Once Spirit has safely set down, the airbags deflate and the landing craft opens up to allow the rover to wheel out on to the surface of the Red Planet. In this image, captured by combining the camera’s green, blue and infrared filters, the rover looks back at the landing site before heading out to explore.
Spirit’s twin, the Mars rover Opportunity, lands on the opposite side of the Red Planet on January 25, 2004.