It was a joyous scene at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena late Sunday night as scientists and engineers celebrated a momentous occasion.
After eight months and 352 million miles, a small, robotic explorer called "Curiosity" landed on the planet Mars.
"(Sunday) night was like nerds winning the Super Bowl," said Steven Lee, a control systems manager for NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. "You can't imagine how exciting it was for us."
Lee played a crucial role in the project to get the rover on the surface of Mars.
"My role was helping to get Curiosity on the ground," Lee said in a phone interview from California. "And now that it's on the ground, I am transitioning and I am a strategic uplink lead for the surface operations, which means I'll be planning operations that are upcoming."
Those operations that will assess whether the atmosphere on Mars can sustain life.
"Working on Curiosity, for me, has been a dream come true," said Lee.
It's a dream that began in the Twin Cities as a student at Armstrong High School, where he graduated in 1980.
"It's very special to have a graduate of Neil Armstrong High School working in the space program and working on the Mars rover," said David Dahl, Armstrong High School principal.
Even Lee admits that it's fitting he went to a high school named after astronaut Neil Armstrong.
"Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon on my 7th birthday," Lee recalls. "What a great way to inspire a kid to be fascinated with space, and so I've always been interested in space, and going to Armstrong High just solidified in my mind that my destiny is to go work in the space program."
Now, Lee will have the chance to explore the Martian surface with the Curiosity rover for at least the next two years.
"To work on a mission that has the potential to revolutionize the way humanity looks at the universe – it's been a great ride, and really the fun and science has just begun," he said.
Lee is going to have quite the hectic schedule now that the curiosity has landed. At the beginning, many of his days will begin at 3 a.m.
If you're interested in following along with Lee's progress, he's inviting people to follow him on Twitter @LeeCuriosity
August 6, 2012