Phoenix spacecraft lands successfully on Mars.

Phoenix spacecraft lands successfully on Mars.

Phoenix spacecraft lands successfully on Mars.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 26 2008 6:17 AM

A Soft Touch

The Washington Postand Los Angeles Timeslead with news that NASA's Phoenix spacecraft landed safely on Mars yesterday. After traveling for 296 days and 422 million miles, the 904-pound spacecraft made the first successful soft landing—using a parachute and thrusters instead of air bags—in Mars since 1976. Phoenix's mission controllers began cheering after the last few anxiety-riddled minutes gave way to a picture-perfect landing on the Red Planet. A couple of hours later, the craft's solar panels deployed successfully and the Phoenix began sending images back to Earth. "It could not have gone better, not in my dreams," the mission's project manager said.

The New York Timesleads with a look at how government officials are increasingly questioning whether all of the nation's nonprofit organizations deserve their tax-exempt status. At a time when nonprofits run businesslike operations, and some private universities have endowments that total billions of dollars, there are those who are wondering whether it makes sense for these organizations to retain a status that costs local governments somewhere around $8 billion to $13 billion every year.

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Unlike the two rovers that have been exploring the Red Planet's surface, the Phoenix is designed to stay put in Mars' northern pole and dig. The material it digs up will then be analyzed with instruments that are inside the craft, which the WP calls "miniature chemistry labs." The LAT says the Phoenix is the "first spacecraft designed to taste the water of an alien planet." Phoenix is the first to travel directly to a part of Mars where there is water to try to figure out whether the minerals and organic processes that are necessary for life actually exist, or once existed, in the planet. Scientists hope this data will help them determine whether the region was ever habitable. The mission is set to last three months.

Last December, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling "that sent tremors through the not-for-profit world" when it said that a small nonprofit day-care center had to pay taxes because it charged every parent the same price, regardless of their incomes, reports the NYT. Now Congress is also looking into the issue by inquiring how churches spend their money, debating if universities should be required to spend a minimum percentage of their endowments and looking into whether nonprofit hospitals should really be exempt from taxes when they operate pretty much the same way as their for-profit counterparts. Tax assessors say it's getting increasingly difficult to figure out who qualifies for exemption when many nonprofits are doing the same work as for-profit institutions.

The LAT catches late-breaking news that severe thunderstorms killed at least eight people in Iowa and Minnesota yesterday. Seven people were killed by a tornado in northeast Iowa that injured at least 50. "Occasionally we have a death, but we have a warning system. Seven deaths. It's been a long time since we've had those kinds of injuries and deaths reported," the Iowa Homeland Security administrator said.

The WP and NYT go inside with looks at how Sen. Hillary Clinton continued to deal with the uproar that was caused by her reference to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy  on Friday. Some have said the former first lady was trying to suggest that she refuses to drop out of the race because her opponent could be killed. In a letter published by the New York Daily Newsyesterday, Clinton wrote that some took her words "entirely out of context and interpreted them to mean something completely different—and completely unthinkable." Clinton went on to emphasize that she was only "making the simple point that given our history, the length of this year's primary contest is nothing unusual." Campaign aides said the media and the Obama campaign were partly responsible for turning the statement into such a huge deal. Obama's campaign immediately seized the story on Friday and sent e-mails to reporters to alert them of the Kennedy statement. But yesterday, the senator's top strategist said that "as far as we're concerned, this issue is done."

The NYT's Paul Krugman writes that it may almost be "appropriate" that the last few days of the Democratic primary have been mired by "yet another fake Clinton scandal." Although none of this will matter in figuring out who will get the nomination since Obama has already won, it could have an effect in the general election if disgruntled Clinton supporters refuse to back the senator from Illinois. Obama and his supporters "should realize that the continuing demonization of Mrs. Clinton serves nobody except Mr. McCain."

The NYT fronts a look at how despite the fact that Clinton has received millions of votes and came close to reaching the presidential nomination, she would still go back to the Senate "as No. 36 out of 49 Democrats." Making the awkwardness worse is that, assuming she doesn't become the vice president, Clinton would have to go back to work with colleagues who pointedly supported Obama. Some contend her increased popularity and exposure would help her, but none of that changes the simple fact that "Clinton's relatively junior status limits her options in the Senate." There are suggestions she might immediately jump to a leadership spot, but that would have to come at the expense of more senior members who aren't likely to want to give up their positions of power.

In the NYT's op-ed page, Helen Benedict writes that the Department of Veterans Affairs is failing the women who are coming back from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides the trauma of combat, female veterans often also have to deal with the harassment from their colleagues and nearly a third say they were sexually assaulted or raped while in the military. This abuse can increase the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, not to mention other health ailments, but there is currently a great shortage of programs tailored specifically for women veterans. "The Department of Veterans Affairs must open more comprehensive women's health clinics," writes Benedict. "The best way to honor all of our soldiers is to do what we can to help them mend. "

In the WP's op-ed page, Maj. Gen. William Troy writes about the Army's practice of "assigning a general officer to attend the funeral of every soldier who falls in service to our country." Troy has attended 23 funerals and struggles to understand the sacrifice of soldiers and their families. "I've learned that war most often claims the lives of young kids who go out on patrol day after day, night after night," writes Troy. "They go with a singular purpose: to not let their buddies down. Each soldier we lay to rest shared that goal. They kept faith with their comrades, even in the face of danger and death. That is the most humbling lesson of all."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.