The world's attention turned again this week to the surface of Mars, as the U.S. space agency's Phoenix Mars Lander touched down Sunday to begin a 3-month mission digging in the Martian soil for signs of water and life. The mission is generating heavy traffic on the website of the Mars Society ? a private worldwide organization dedicated to the robotic and human exploration of the Red Planet.

Mars Society Webmaster Alex Kirk says the Phoenix Lander's arrival on Mars has bumped traffic to more than 100,000 hits a day on the website. "We have all the latest news on the Society, a nice RSS [Really Simply Syndication] feed that gives you all the latest news that we are collecting from around the web, and a news letter that tells you what is going on with both mars and the Society."

The Mars Society has 139 affiliated chapters with members in all 50 U.S. states and 70 foreign countries. Many chapters have websites of their own linked to the site.

In addition to space news, Kirk says the website promotes conferences and special events like the annual Mars Society University Rover Challenge that takes place on June 6, 2008 in southern Utah. Kirk says the Challenge is inspired by the two robotic vehicles that have been exploring Mars for the past four years. "We have nine teams from around the world, building their own Mars rovers and then testing them out against each other at our Analog Mars Desert Research Station in Hanksville, Utah."

The Mars Society also promotes political activism by urging website visitors to write or fax appeals directly to members of the U.S. Congress. 

Among the new features coming online shortly is a popular Internet space forum that will make its homepage, allowing Mars enthusiasts to communicate with one another more easily.

Kirk says access to the website is free, although the group does solicit fees for membership to help with its education outreach programs, research, conferences and annual Mars simulation missions ? Earth-bound training exercises which also get support from the U.S. space agency, NASA

Kirk says the website, like the group itself, invites new members who share a passion for Mars: "Definitely go to and join us if you think that you want to make a difference in seeing human exploration of mars move forward in the next couple of decades."