A NASA lander has landed on Mars, setting up a new era in the search for life on the Red Planet.
The US space agency launched the Phoenix lander on Monday, a day before the start of its first international spacewalk on Wednesday, a two-day long mission aimed at finding signs of water on Mars.
The Phoenix landers are intended to send samples back to Earth for further analysis.
“It’s a very exciting day for all of us here on Earth,” NASA said in a statement.
“The lander is the first step in a new chapter in Mars exploration and we’re excited to be on Mars.”
The Phoenix landed at 1:47pm local time (4:47am AEST) and will remain in Martian orbit for five hours to analyse samples taken from the Martian surface.
The landers mission will also be used to determine whether the water present in Mars is sufficient to support microbial life, NASA said.
At 1:53pm, a second rover, called Phoenix-Two, landed at the end of the same route, and will spend five hours studying the Martian soil.NASA’s Phoenix landera landed at a place called Rhea, named after the ancient Greek goddess of water, at 2:04pm local land time (5:04am AEDT).
The mission will last up to 10 weeks, and it is believed that the water on the planet’s surface will be enough to support life.
“The landing is a key step towards understanding the planet and its future,” said Phil McNutt, NASA’s Mars exploration programme manager.
“We’re building a better understanding of how the planet works, and how it formed and evolved.”
Phoenix-Two landed at 3:04:30am (6:04 noon AEDS) on Wednesday.
The landering of Rhea is a step towards a possible return to Earth.NASA hopes the landing will provide new insights into the planet.
“Phoenix-2 has identified water ice on the surface of Mars, which is consistent with the predictions of ancient Martian environments,” NASA’s James Oberg, Phoenix land-team principal investigator, said in the statement.
“This mission will help us understand the composition of Mars’ ancient environment.”
Earlier this month, NASA announced it had successfully returned a sample from the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), a spacecraft designed to explore the Red Sea and its tectonic activity.
In the last few years, a number of small missions have attempted to land on Mars with success.
NASA has also sent two spacecraft to Mars to study the Red, White and Blue Marble features on the moon.
This month, the US agency’s Curiosity rover landed on the crater rim of a crater, which scientists believe is an ancient lava lake.
A new rover will attempt to land next year, and in 2020, the agency’s Mars 2020 rover will land on the Martian equator.
Scientists hope the landers landing will lead to a definitive answer on whether or not life exists on Mars or in other planetary bodies.
“One of the things we’re really excited about is the potential to land directly on a surface that has the right conditions for life to be formed,” said Mike Fuchs, the mission scientist on the Phoenix-2 mission.
He said the lander would not be able to sample the Martian atmosphere directly, as it is in the atmosphere of Earth.
“But this lander will be able send samples to a space station or send back data to Earth and then the mission will be in place,” he said.