The first European mission to another planet successfully blasted off into the night sky over Kazakhstan on Monday to the delight – and relief – of the onlooking scientists and engineers.

Two hours and 10 minutes after lift off, Mars Express sent back its first signal, reporting that it had separated from it its launcher in perfect shape, deployed its solar panels and was on track for a Christmas rendezvous with the Red Planet.

By taking both an orbiting spacecraft and a lander, the mission will conduct a top to bottom survey of Mars. The key goals are revealing what happened to the water scientists suspect once washed over the planet’s surface and to search for signs of the life this water may have supported.

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