What happened
The Phoenix lander sent back new pictures from the arctic circle of Mars, showing for the first time the spot where it will dig in search of traces of water, and other conditions for life. “This is a place we're going to get to know very well over the next three months," said the mission's chief scientist, Peter Smith. (Reuters)

What the commentators said
This unmanned mission, at $420 million, said The Boston Globe in an editorial (free registration), "should provide invaluable information at a fraction of the cost of manned missions into space." NASA hopes it digs up signs that there was once life on Mars, probably our "most basic question" about the planet.

"Don't expect to see evidence of little green men," said the New York Post in an editorial. But if this craft can help prove that the soil on Mars contains the residue of melted ice, that would suggest that “Mars once had a very wet environment” that might have supported life. And that would put us one step closer to solving “the age-old mystery: Are we alone?”

"The Phoenix is a scout ship of sorts," said the Houston Chronicle in an editorial, and it's achievements so far are impressive. Before this mission, of 11 attempts to land a craft on Mars by the U.S., Russia, and Britain, only five have been successful. And what Phoenix finds, or doesn't, will help blaze the way for "the planned manned exploration of Mars later this century."

How inspiring, said Phil Plait in The Huffington Post. Take a moment and forget about Clinton vs. Obama. Forget President Bush, the economy, and gas prices. This shows that, “when we learn from our mistakes” and “persist,” we can literally touch other worlds. “This is what we humans can do when we try.”