Life on Mars
The Phoenix Mars Lander began its exploration of the Martian polar cap area, searching for "evidence of the building blocks of life."
Of today's launch, project manager Barry Goldstein said: "In my dreams it couldn't have gone as perfectly as it went."
Said the AP story: "It performed a choreographed dance that included unfurling its parachute, shedding its heat shield and backshell, and firing thrusters to slow to a 5 mph touchdown. The radio signal confirming the landing came at 4:53 p.m. PDT."
This is the first probe on the Mars surface to look for signs of life since Viking. But its 90 day mission drilling into the permafrost has limits, according to the AP story:
"The lander also will study whether the ice ever melted at some point in Mars' history when the planet had a warmer environment than the current harsh, cold one it currently has.
Scientists do not expect to find water in its liquid form at the Phoenix landing site because it's too frigid. But they say that if raw ingredients of life exist anywhere on the planet, they likely would be preserved in the ice.
Phoenix, however, cannot detect signs of alien life that may exist now or once existed."