There was cheering in Prince George this week when the Curiosity probe landed safely on Mars.
Maruice Sluka stayed up into the early hours of Monday morning to watch the NASA probe and mobile science lab land on the red planet as it begins a multi-year exploration mission.
"I had my fingers crossed and I was watching it with baited breath," said Sluka, a spokesman for Prince George Astronomical Society. "It was remarkable and exciting to see that it worked as planned."
NASA, the American space agency, used a complicated set of manoeuvers to get the $2.5 billion probe on the surface of Mars after an eight-month journey from Earth. Curiosity has more advanced features than previous probes, including a laser that scientists will use to vaporize rocks.
The probe landed in a massive crater, one of the lowest points on Mars. The crater also contains a mountain and scientists want Curiosity to climb at least part of it to get a sense of the planet's geological history.
Sluka said he's hopeful Curiosity will be able to shed more light on what happened to the water that's believed to have been on Mars many years ago.
"Where they placed the (probe), they will be able to look through the eons of time," he said.
Curiosity could be the last of its kind for NASA as budget cuts in recent years have prevented the agency from beginning the development of future mega-projects, but Sluka hopes other countries will step up and expand their space programs. He said exploring Mars isn't just about answering questions about that planet, it can have practical applications on Earth as well.
"Mars has an atmosphere, seasons and storms and all other phenomena," Sluka said. "By looking at it we can understand our own world better."
Sluka said he and other local astronomy enthusiasts will be following the progress of Curiosity both online and through the media as the probe makes discoveries in the coming months and years.
"It should bode well for science and exploration and further understanding of our nearest and most habitable neighbour," he said.