A small science probe blazed through the salmon-colored skies of Mars on Sunday, touching down on a frozen desert at the planet's north pole to search for water and assess conditions for sustaining life, NASA officials said. The spacecraft, known as Phoenix, landed at 4:53 p.m. PDT after a do-or-die plunge through the planet's thin atmosphere and thruster-jet landing to the Mars surface. It marked the first time that a spacecraft had successfully landed at one of the planet's polar regions. "It was a hell of a lot scarier than the two Mars rovers," NASA's space sciences chief Ed Weiler said, referring to the cushioned landings of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. "I kept thinking, 'I wish I had airbags.'" Pulled by Mars' gravity, Phoenix was tearing along at 12,700 mph before it entered the atmosphere, which slowed the craft so it could pop out a parachute and fire thruster rockets to gently float to the ground. "It's down, baby, it's down," yelled a NASA flight controller, looking at signals from Mars showing that Phoenix had landed. Flight controllers and scientists battled nerves as Phoenix wrapped up its 10-month, 423 million-mile journey. In 14 minutes, the probe transformed from an interplanetary cruiser to a free-standing science station. "People got really uncomfortable," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which oversees the mission.