I bet the team in charge of the Phoenix spacecraft is not going to enjoy a restful night as they prepare to land this hunk of metal near Mars's north pole tomorrow. I'll probably sleep fine, but I'm hoping for good news tomorrow.
This landing is specially poignant, since the last craft (Mars Polar Lander) that attempted a powered landing using retro rockets went MIA on Mars over 8 years ago. The rovers sent up since then have all utilized successful airbag landings, but Phoenix is going for the traditional soft landing and that means edgy nerves while awaiting a successful touchdown signal nearly 9 ½ months after its launch.
Unlike the rovers, Phoenix is a stationary craft, designed to survey the area for water and primordial matter. Depending on its discoveries, it could pave the way for future missions, culminating in manned exploration of the red planet.
For me this is an incredible triumph of science and engineering, specially since I'm still amazed at seeing 500-ton airplanes getting airborne and traveling vast distances. The fact that a tiny craft can be controlled from 35 million miles away is nothing short of miraculous.
Here is the Phoenix blogs updating the events surrounding this mission. Good luck, guys.