It seems that we're (via NASA/JPL) trying to put another lander on Mars tomorrow ... it's called the Phoenix, and as I'm typing this, it's due for a landing in a bit more than 17 hours from now (about 7pm central). The purpose of this mission is to study the polar ice caps on Mars, especially studying the history, and possible residual presence, of water there.
The challenge with a place with a thin atmosphere is getting the payload down to the surface in one (functioning) piece. The spacecraft will be going 12,500mph when it gets there, and they're depending on a heat shield (which can reach 2,600°F) and a relatively shallow trajectory to slow that down to about 900mph, then the probe will deploy a parachute which will slow it down to about 250mph, then, at about 3,200ft above the surface (going about 125mph at this point), it loses the chute and goes into free-fall, with just seconds to fire its rocket engines, orient itself, and make a soft landing. The entire process, from space to ground, takes only 7 minutes, and signals from Mars to Earth take something like 10 minutes, so the whole process will be "in the dark" ... by the time we hear that it's going in, it will have already "landed" ... one way or the other. It's times like this that I really wish I had that NASA channel thing ... it would be cool to be able to follow along ... even if there was no "play by play" as the Phoenix went into its descent. I'm sure that the news channels will at least make note of it ... the NASA site indicates that it will be several days before the lander has fully charged itself and checked through its system, so we're not likely to even have pics if everything goes according to plan.
Oh, well ... I hadn't heard of this previously, so I figured I'd pass it along to the likewise clueless out there!