By Science @ NASAMay 25, 2008: NASA's Phoenix spacecraft landed in the northern polar region of Mars Sunday to begin three months of examining a site chosen for its likelihood of having frozen water within reach of the lander's robotic arm.
Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern Time) confirmed the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. The signals took that long to travel from Mars to Earth at the speed of light.
Mission team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University of Arizona, Tucson, cheered confirmation of the landing and eagerly awaited further information from Phoenix later Sunday night.
Among those in the JPL control room was NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, who noted this was the first successful Mars landing without airbags since Viking 2 in 1976.
"For the first time in 32 years, and only the third time in history, a JPL team has carried out a soft landing on Mars," Griffin said. "I couldn't be happier to be here to witness this incredible achievement."
During its 422-million-mile flight from Earth to Mars after launching on Aug. 4, 2007, Phoenix relied on electricity from solar panels. The cruise stage with those solar panels was jettisoned seven minutes before the lander, encased in a protective shell, entered the Martian atmosphere. Batteries will now provide electricity until the lander's own pair of solar arrays spread open.
"We've passed the hardest part and we're breathing again, but we still need to see that Phoenix has opened its solar arrays and begun generating power," said JPL's Barry Goldstein, the Phoenix project manager. If all goes well, engineers will learn the status of the solar arrays between 7 and 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time from a Phoenix transmission relayed via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.