PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With the words “touch down confirmed,” Mission Control in Houston erupts in a frenzy of elation and relief, as Land Rover “Curiosity” settles safely on the surface of Mars.

NASA’s latest venture into space has a picture perfect landing. Photos from Mars are quick to follow.

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Many of those who worked on this project learned their craft at the Planetary Robotics Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.

CMU grad John Thornton is president of Astrobotic, a CMU spinoff company working toward a rover landing on the moon three years from now.

“These are the rovers and this is the lander that will bring the rovers to the surface,” he says, gesturing toward prototypes. “The rover’s going to start out up top and drive down these ramps and touch down on the surface of the moon.”

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It would be the first privately-funded lunar mission. The rover will search for sources of water ice on the moon.

Thornton says it’s just one of many projects in the creative labs of CMU.

“Carnegie Mellon’s got the best robotics in the world. So we’ve got the greatest minds on earth, right here under one roof, developing all kinds of robots from medical robots, agricultural robots, mining robots. And here we are in the Planetary Robotics Lab doing space robots.”

When it comes to CMU and robotics, the sky’s the limit.

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