Phoenix has landed safely on Mars

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The NASA Phoenix mission to Mars has landed on the surface of Mars intact!

Previous missions have shown large amounts of subsurface water ice in the northern arctic plain. The Phoenix lander targets this region and will use a robotic arm to dig through the protective top soil layer to the water ice below and ultimately, to bring both soil and water ice to the lander platform for sophisticated scientific analysis.

Controllers were able to receive data for a minute after the landing, enough data to confirm that the lander was tilted by just one quarter of a degree!

"In my dreams, it couldn't have gone as perfectly as it went tonight," says Barry Goldstein, the Phoenix project manager. "I'm in shock. We had all the signals. Everything."

"It's in a nice flat place, very safe and happy," says Peter Smith, the Phoenix principal investigator.

An animation showing the landing is available here, and the first image back will be available on APOD.

The main activity of the mission controllers immediately after launch was phoning and texting friends and family, updating them on their success!

The lander meanwhile will wait for 20 minutes for the dust to settle, before opening its solar panels. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft will next fly over the landing site in about 2 hours time, and it will be then (around 02:00 GMT) that the first pictures from the surface of Mars may be sent back to Earth.