UA Community Celebrates as Lander Reaches Mars

UA Community Celebrates as Lander Reaches Mars

By Ellen MossUniversity Communications
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Peter Smith, with members of the Phoenix team behind him, talks to the media outside the Science Operations Center.
Peter Smith, with members of the Phoenix team behind him, talks to the media outside the Science Operations Center.

A collective cheer rose from the campus of The University of Arizona on Sunday as word came that the Phoenix Mars Lander had safely landed, completing its 422-million-mile journey to the Red Planet.

In the hours leading up to the landing, members of the University and Tucson communities filled the Sonett and Kuiper space sciences buildings and Flandrau: The UA Science Center to explore Mars-related exhibits, peer through telescopes and watch the NASA TV broadcast of mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

As scientists at JPL anxiously awaited word that the lander had made it safely, the crowds on campus sat glued to large television screens, watching mission control's every move. The scientists' cheers were echoed with those on campus when landing was confirmed.

More than a thousand people visited campus on Sunday to take part in the pre-landing activities.

More than 60 UA employees and volunteers helped organize the day's events, said Carla Bitter, education and public outreach manager for the mission.

"I couldn't be happier," she said of their efforts. "This is better than I could have expected."

Leslie Tolbert, UA vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development, was impressed by the day's activities and excited about what the mission means for the UA.

"This is the place to be scientifically on the globe," Tolbert said.

She added that a successful landing opens the door for a new kind of science and for the UA to be at the forefront is both a great opportunity and an honor.

"All eyes are on us," Tolbert said. "It's very exciting."

The campus continued the celebration on Monday when Peter Smith, the mission's principal investigator, flew back to Tucson from JPL and returned to the Science Operations Center.

Smith was welcomed by staff and students from the mission team, several friends and colleagues from the UA community and more than a dozen members of the media.

"I feel like I don’t need shoes anymore," Smith said after hugging several members of the Phoenix team. "I'm floating on air."

A President Robert Shelton, who joined Smith at the Science Operations Center, said that he felt a "huge sense of pride" for what the mission has already accomplished.

"It's exciting beyond belief," he said.

To learn more about the Phoenix mission and to see photos from Mars, visit

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