Hour Two: NASA's Probe Lands on Mars

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.

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

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, solo hosting feels so good, and now that I think about it, feels a little quieter than usual.

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Mr. ART GARFUNKEL and Mr. PAUL SIMON: (Singing) Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again. Because a vision softly creeping Left its seeds while I was sleeping And the vision that was planted in my brain...

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MARTIN: I'm Rachel Martin. I crack myself up. It's Memorial Day, May 26th, 2008. That Simon & Garfunkel song is a long-distance dedication to my friend and co-host Mike Pesca, has a vocal presence on the BPP. Today he's gone. It's just me, folks.

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MARTIN: I'll try to do my best to fill the airwaves with all kinds of good stuff. But I've got help, because we've got all kinds of interesting stories to talk about on the show this hour. We'll get you all caught up in the weekend of politics with the BPP's regular Monday morning politics guy, Jim VandeHei - that rhymes with politics guy - editor of politico.com. Also the Indianapolis 500, it was last night. Bill Wolff, another friend of the BPP, sports analyst and husband of our dear Alison Stewart, is on the line to talk weekend sports.

And we listen again to our conversation with Jim Sheeler. He chronicled the life and work of Marine Major Steve Beck. He's a casualty assistant calls officer. Those are the people who have the grim task of knocking on the doors of military families who have lost loved ones in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. An appropriate conversation for this Memorial Day. The book is called "Final Salute: A story of unfinished lives." That's the book that Jim Sheeler wrote and we'll have the conversation coming up later in the show. 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.

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 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. Phoenix careened toward Mars at speeds of 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'll probe for ancient water and organic materials with the 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 npr.org throughout the day for updates on this story. Now let's get more of the day's news headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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