NASA's Phoenix spacecraft successfully landed on Mars' frigid north pole region late Sunday in a risk-fraught mission to search for signs of habitability, the US space agency said.
"Phoenix has landed," a NASA official said as the safe touchdown was confirmed.
The Mars Phoenix Lander successfully deployed a parachute and then thrusters to brake in a tense seven minutes from 20,400 kilometers per hour (12,700 miles per hour) to manage a soft landing on its three legs.
Mission officials at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, were seen on television cheering and giving each other hugs and high-fives after signals sent back from the craft confirmed the arrival of the first spacecraft ever to land on the Martian arctic.
Phoenix had only one shot at the landing and according to Phoenix project manager Barry Goldstein it was close enough to perfect:
The team had been worried about the high risk of the project, with a roughly 50 percent failure rate on all Mars missions since the Russians launched the first one in 1960.
"Frankly, this was by far the hardest part," Goldstein said on NASA TV. "In my dreams it couldn't have gone as perfectly as it did tonight."
Updates will be posted at NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander section.
Phoenix team members celebrate the Phoenix landing on Mars, May 25, 2008. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona).