NASA Lands Phoenix Probe Safely on Mars

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With the Phoenix probe's successful Red Planet landing Sunday, NASA is beginning to pore poring over data . The half-billion-dollar spacecraft is designed to search for evidence of life in the icy soil near the planet's north pole.

BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

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Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, shout out to South Carolina. I'm Rachel Martin. It's Memorial Day, May 26th, 2008. Mike Pesca has the day off. I'm driving the BPP train all by my lonesome today.

So I'm going to talk about South Carolina, because that's where I was over the weekend, and that is a state that knows hospitality. The last time I was in South Carolina was when I was in high school. I went to Myrtle Beach, and then, there as a grown up, and you know, as a grown up, it's a lovely place to visit. They've got rocking chairs, they've got barbeque, they've got bluegrass, and they have advertising for NPR on the highway.

I'm driving to the airport. All of a sudden, I do a double take, because I see a billboard advertising NPR on Sirius Satellite Radio, as if that state didn't already have enough going for it. Now, they advertise NPR. I said, you, South Carolina, you rock, and I'm going to go back and visit you, and they're really nice down there. So that's my plug for the state of South Carolina.

Coming up on the show this hour. If you've ever dreamed of being an astronaut in Europe, now's your chance. I think you have to be European, though. The European Space Agency is taking applications. Seriously, there are a few prerequisites. You can't just be anyone. You have to be European. You do have to speak decent English. We're going to talk with the head of human resources at the Space Agency about how the search is going on. I imagine you have to kind of know something about space as well.

We'll also hear a BPP live studio session, from Death Cab for Cutie. Their new album is called "Narrow Stairs," debuted at the top of the billboard charts a couple of weeks ago. That was a coup for them. And the BPP's movie guy, Dan Holloway, is here with the summer movies. You may not be aware. Maybe you've heard of them, but they've been kind of overshadowed by the big blockbusters. Daniel will break it down for us. We'll get the day's news headlines, in just a minute. But first...

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Unidentified Man #1: Phoenix has landed. Phoenix has landed. Welcome to the northern face of Mars.

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MARTIN: NASA's triumphant return to the Red Planet came with whoops, hugs, and high fives, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, yesterday.

Unidentified Man #2: Did you guys see it?

Unidentified Woman #1: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: Did you see it? Unbelievable.

Unidentified Man #3: Whoa!

Unidentified Man #2: Fabulous.

MARTIN: The Phoenix Mars Lander touched down on Mars' arctic northern plains, just after 4:30 after - in the afternoon pacific time. Here's mission project manager Barry Goldstein.

Mr. BARRY GOLDSTEIN (Project Manager, Phoenix Lander): It was better than we could have possibly wished for, everything that we wanted in the telemetry, every little thing locked up the way we wanted it. We rehearse over and over again, we rehearse all the problems, and none of them occurred. It went perfectly, just the way we designed it.

MARTIN: That perfection he's talking about? the Lander got within 12 miles of its target after a trip of 422 million miles. That is a long trip. Phoenix careened towards Mars at speeds up to 12,500 miles per hour. Just seconds from touchdown, 12 small rocket thrusters fired to slow the Lander's descent speed, to five miles per hour.

The landing was Twittered by a NASA employee, posting as the probe itself, documenting each step of the four-minute plunge into the Martian atmosphere with posts like, come on, rockets! I've landed! Cheers, tears, I'm here! Once there, Phoenix opened its solar panels to power up its onboard camera, beaming about four dozen images of the surface of the Red Planet.

Phoenix will roam on Mars for the next three months, in search of possible signs of life. It will probe for ancient water and organic materials with a robotic digging arm. Phoenix is the first rover to land on Mars since 2004, and the first spacecraft ever to land on the Red Planet's icy polar region. You can go to throughout the day for updates on this story. Now let's get more of the news headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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