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In the end, there were zero minutes of terror for NASA’s latest Mars probe as it closed in on the red planet. After a 10-month, 711-million-kilometre journey, the probe fired its engines flawlessly for 34 minutes and 26 seconds on 21 September, then let itself be gravitationally captured into Martian orbit.

Ecstatic engineers and scientists crowded the hallways outside the mission-control room for the the US$671-million MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado.

“You get one shot with Mars orbit insertion, and MAVEN nailed it tonight,” says David Mitchell, the mission’s project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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