(CNN) -- The first pictures from NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander, which successfully touched down near Mars' north pole Sunday, showed a pattern of brown polygons as far as the camera could see.
"It's surprisingly close to what we expected and that's what surprises me most," said Peter Smith, the mission's principal investigator. "I expected a bigger surprise."
The landing on the Red Planet's arctic plains -- which ended a 296-day journey -- was right on target, a feat NASA's Ed Weiler compared to landing a hole-in-one with a golf ball from 10,000 miles.
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
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I was listening to this on "This week in science". It doesn't have the ability to roam, so the landing spot had to be dead on. They think there is ice under the surface which is what the probe is going to look for by digging a few feet down then analyzing what it finds.
It is really amazing that they were able to land it right where they needed to.