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Phoenix Probe Lands on Mars North Pole

(CNN) -- The first-ever landing of a probe near Mars' north pole took place successfully on Sunday, NASA confirmed.

Artists Drawing of Phoenix Mars Lander.
Artists Drawing of Phoenix Mars Lander.

The Mars Phoenix Lander, completing a 296-day journey, closed in on the Red Planet with a 50-50 chance of a successful touchdown on its arctic plains, NASA officials said.

The landing -- dubbed the "seven minutes of terror" -- was a nerve-wracking experience for mission managers, who have witnessed the failure of similar missions.

In mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, they celebrated the lander's much-anticipated entry.

"It was better than we could have imagined," Barry Goldstein, project manager for the Phoenix mission, told CNN.

The Phoenix's 90-day mission is to analyze the soils and permafrost of Mars' arctic tundra for signs of past or present life.

The lander is equipped with a robotic arm capable of scooping up ice and dirt to look for organic evidence that life once existed there, or even exists now.