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Phoenix Mars lander touches down

Phoenix Mars lander touches down
In this artist conception, the Phoenix Mars Lander, which launched in August 2007 and the first project in NASA's Mars Scout missions, landed on Mars on May 25, 2008. The mission's plan is to land in icy soils near the north polar permanent ice cap of Mars and explore the history of the water in these soils and any associated rocks, while monitoring polar climate.The spacecraft and its instruments are designed to analyze samples collected from up to a half-meter (20 inches) deep using its robotic arm. The arm extends forward in this artist's concept of the lander on Mars. (UPI Photo/NASA) | License Photo

HOUSTON, May 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. space agency's Phoenix Mars lander sent a signal to Earth Sunday, indicating it reached the surface of the Red Planet, NASA said on its Web site.

Touchdown came shortly before 8 p.m. EDT, the space agency reported.

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NASA officials were expected to have to wait 90 more minutes to learn whether solar panels on the spacecraft deployed.

Phoenix, equipped with retro-rockets to slow its descent, plunged into Mars's atmosphere 78 miles above the surface at 12,750 mph, and then was traveling about 1.7 times the speed of sound when a parachute was deployed about 7.8 miles above the surface.

The Phoenix's heat shield, which had to withstand temperatures of about 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit during entry, was jettisoned about 15 seconds after the chute opened, NASA said.

Only five of 13 previous attempted Mars landings were successful.

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