The Phoenix Lander successfully landed on an "icy northern plain" on Mars after its 422 million mile flight from Earth. It launched in August 2007. This was the first soft landing of a Mars mission since 1974. To slow itself from an estimated speed of 12,000 mph to just 5 mph, the craft deployed a special parachute on its descent, and then fired thrusters to make a gentle touchdown on the red planet's arctic surface.
Phoenix Lander will remain stationary, unlike the Mars Rovers that move over the terrain. It will dig trenches with a retractable arm, searching for traces of water--and perhaps life?--in the Martian soil.
Some of the first photos Phoenix lander took were self-portraits. It sent images of its landing gear and solar array back to NASA so they could access the condition of the vehicle after touchdown. NASA was ecstatic to find Phoenix Lander is "sitting pretty," just a half degree off-axis. When asked if the landing could have gone any better, project manager Barry Goldstein answered, "Not in my dreams."
The Phoenix will analyze soil samples and continue to broadcast information for approximately 90 days, then the Martian winter sets in. Extreme cold and a coating of up to three feet of carbon dioxide ice are expected to put the lander out of commission. It is unknown if the Phoenix can by revived after the ice thaws, but a recovery is not expected.
Many have criticized the cost of the mission, but the knowledge of what we learn from our space missions serves to advance science, sometimes by leaps and bounds, and improve technology, daily life and our understanding of the universe.
Congratulations to NASA and the Phoenix Lander team on a picture perfect landing.