An Iowa science fiction author and Mars enthusiast is counting down the minutes until today’s scheduled landing of NASA’s Mars Polar Lander. Novelist Steve McCullough of West Des Moines says the remote-controlled spacecraft carries a microphone to beam home sounds from the Red Planet.The last Mars landing in July 1997 by NASA’s “Pathfinder” provided detailed pictures of that planet’s surface. The website had some 33-million viewers a DAY. With today’s landing, the “planetary.org” website may become THE most viewed site on the Internet as p-c users pack in to hear the sounds of Mars.McCullough says the Mars Polar Lander itself should make a soft landing using parachutes and retro-rockets to slow its decent. Before landing, it is programmed to cast off two basketball-sized probes that will hit the Martian surface at 400 miles an hour and burrow six feet into the ground.Landing is scheduled for 2:37 this afternoon, Iowa time. McCullough’s latest novel is also landing on store shelves today — “Returning to the Garden” is about a fictional discovery on Mars that changes our views of evolution, religion and the history of Earth.
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