NASA's Opportunity rover zipped its first pictures of Mars to Earth early Sunday, delighting and puzzling scientists just hours after the spacecraft bounced to a landing on the opposite side of the red planet from its twin rover, Spirit.
The pictures showed a surface smooth and dark red in some places, and strewn with fragmented slabs of light bedrock in others. Bounce marks apparently left by the rover's air bags when it landed were clearly visible.
Mission members hooted and hollered when NASA began receiving the first of dozens of black-and-white and color images from Opportunity about four hours after its landing.
Swaddled in protective air bags, Opportunity plunged into the martian atmosphere at more than 12,000 mph. The six-wheeled rover landed at 12:05 a.m. in Meridiani Planum, believed to be the smoothest, flattest region on Mars.
The rover's path off its lander also appeared unobstructed, unlike Spirit's landing, when a deflated air bags blocked its planned route.
Scientists still are hoping to fix the crippling problems Spirit developed last Wednesday.