PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft plunged into the atmosphere of Mars and successfully landed in the Red Planet's northern polar region on Sunday, where it will begin 90 days of digging in the permafrost to look for evidence of the building blocks of life.
Cheers swept through mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory when the touchdown signal from the Phoenix Mars Lander was detected after a nailbiting descent. Engineers and scientists hugged and high-fived one another.
"In my dreams it couldn't have gone as perfectly as it went," project manager Barry Goldstein said. "It went right down the middle."
Among Phoenix's first tasks were to check its power supply and the health of its science instruments, and unfurl its solar panels after the dust settled. Mission managers said there would be a two-hour blackout period as Phoenix conducted the checks while out of view from Earth.
Phoenix plunged into the Martian atmosphere at more than 12,000 mph after a 10-month, 422 million-mile voyage through space.