After "seven minutes of terror," as controllers describe the descent phase when the Phoenix Mars Lander was out of contact, the spacecraft has safely put its mechanical feet down on the soil of Martian arctic. Images are already streaming back, showing a relatively flat, pebble-strewn landing site and the kind of geometric patterns created in of permafrost regions of Earth as ice freezes and thaws. Missions controllers and managers hugged each other, cheered, and pumped their fists when the craft touched down on its three parachutes and its descent thrusters. Now it's the scientists' turn, and they expect a treasure trove of data to help answer questions like how much water ice the Red Planet conceals and, of course, whether it's ever been - or even now could be - the home of indigenous microbial life.
COMMENT: Congratulations to everyone involved. It's a great day to be an Earthman.