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Last Updated: Saturday March 11 2006 10:07 GMT

Nasa's Mars mission begins orbit

Artist's impression of the probe going into orbit

Nasa scientists are celebrating successfully putting a probe into orbit around the Red Planet.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) survived the difficult journey, which took six months and included several risky manoeuvres.

During the mission the probe is expected to search the atmosphere and surface of Mars for signs of life.

The spacecraft is the size of a small bus and carries some of the most hi-tech equipment used on a Mars probe.

The MRO approached the planet at 9.24pm on Friday, and slowed down so it could be captured by Mars' gravity.

Nasa team celebrates
Nasa team celebrates

It then passed behind the planet and lost radio contract with Nasa's control room.

But after 30 minutes of being out of radio contact the probe emerged from behind the planet in exactly the right place, to the relief of scientists.

"I am very relieved," MRO project manager Jim Graf said. "It was picture perfect."

The probe will continue to fly around the Red Planet for the next six months, gradually reducing its orbit until it is in the right place to begin scientific experiments.

Search for life

These will take two years, during which time scientists hope it will send back the clearest-ever pictures as it searches for signs of life.

The probe will also look for potential landing sites for future Martian rovers.

It's hoped it will teach us more about the mysterious planet, which some scientists think was a bit like Earth many years ago.