NASA's InSight Successfully Lands on Mars

NASA's Insight Spacecraft Lands on Mars title

They checked and double-checked InSight's trajectory, aiming it toward a 6-by-15-mile keyhole in the Martian atmosphere that would guide the vehicle toward a carefully chosen landing spot on the ruddy surface.

NASA engineers don't call it "seven minutes of terror" for nothing.

What is NASA's Mars InSight lander?

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) provided a self-hammering mole that can burrow 16 feet (five meters) into the surface - further than any instrument before - to measure heat flow.

"While most of the country was enjoying Thanksgiving with their family and friends, the InSight team was busy making the final preparations for Monday's landing", said Tom Hoffman of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who is InSight's project manager.

"The UK scientists and engineers involved in this mission have committed several years of their lives to building the seismometer on board, and the descent is always a worrying time".

"MarCO was there to relay information back from InSight in real time, and we did that extraordinarily well", said Andy Klesh, MarCO chief engineer, at a press conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here November 26 two hours after the InSight landing.

"Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration", InSight's lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt, said before this morning's success.

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Landing on Mars is notoriously troublesome, with 10 out of 17 previous missions failing.

A quick photo sent from Mars' surface was marred by specks of debris on the camera cover but showed a flat surface with few if any rocks - just what scientists were hoping for. The successful landing is a feat of engineering and space savvy, as only about 40 percent of missions that have been sent to Mars (by any space agency) have met with success. Better photos are expected in the days ahead.

Although an old pro at this, NASA hasn't attempted a landing at Mars for six years.

InSight robotically guided itself through the landing. Updates were coming in via radio signals that take more than eight minutes to cross the almost 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) between Mars and Earth. "It's such a risky thing that there's always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong".

It's risky business to descend through the Martian atmosphere and land, even for the USA, the only country to pull it off. Together, those instruments will take measurements of Mars' vital signs, like its pulse, temperature and reflexes - which translates to internal activity like seismology and the planet's wobble as the sun and its moons tug on Mars. The InSight lander is interested in the Red Planet as a whole, including what's happening deep beneath the surface. No other country has managed to set and operate a spacecraft on the dusty red surface.

Mars InSight's goal is to listen for quakes and tremors as a way to unveil the Red Planet's inner mysteries, how it formed billions of years ago and, by extension, how other rocky planets like Earth took shape. "We'll be working on opportunities as we go to see where they're necessary and how well we can support them in the future". "The fingerprints of those early processes just aren't here on the Earth".

InSight will not be looking for life on Mars. This is no rock-collecting expedition.

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