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BREAKING UPDATE 12:30pm 5-26-08 Phoenix Probe Lands on Mars: 1st Pictures Back to JPL
Sunday, May 25, 2008 5:09pm

PASADENA, CA (JPL)  From CNN (By: Tom Pace, Talk of the Town) BREAKING: MISSION TO MARS  12:30pm  5-26-08  The Mars' Lander "Phoenix" has transmitted its first pictures from the red planet showing a solar panel successfully deployed, along with several images of a very flat Martian terrain.  Now, everyone in NASA's Mission Control is analyzing all the pictures being beamed back from Phoenix. 

Earlier, it was: "Phoenix has landed!"  The first leg of the latest mission to Mars was confirmed at Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) at 6:53pm (cdst) Sunday, May 25th, 2008.  

The end of the nearly year-long, 422 million-mile odyssey of the Phoenix Lander was a nail-biter at NASA's JPL headquarters in Pasadena, California, as mission managers crowded around, celebrating 16 minutes after the actual touchdown on Mars.

The landing -- dubbed the "seven minutes of terror" -- was a nerve-wracking experience for mission managers, according to CNN. 

The mission of the Phoenix is to analyze the soils and permafrost of Mars' arctic tundra for signs of life -- past or present.

Phoenix is equipped with a robotic arm capable of scooping up ice and dirt to look for organic evidence that life once existed there, or even exists now.

"We are not going to be able to answer the final question of is there life on Mars," said Smith, the optical scientist on the team. "We will take the next important step. We'll find out if there's organic material associated with this ice in the polar regions. Ice is a preserver, and if there ever were organics on Mars and they got into that ice, they will still be there today."

Earlier, officials said the spacecraft was expected to be traveling at 13,000 mph when it hit the Martian atmosphere. Onboard computers were supposed to deploy its parachute, jettison its heat shield, extend its three legs, release the parachute and finally fire its thrusters to bring it down for a soft landing.

The twin to the Mars Polar Lander spacecraft, Phoenix was supposed to travel to Mars in 2001 as the Mars Surveyor spacecraft. They were originally part of the "better, faster, cheaper" program, formulated by then-NASA Administrator Dan Goldin to beef up planetary exploration on a lean budget.


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