NASA's InSight lands on Mars after six-month journey

James Marshall
December 2, 2018

"We know a lot of about its surface, its atmosphere and ionosphere, but not a lot about the first two miles of Mars' crust", the scientists said.

InSight acquired this image of the surface of Mars.

Vice President Mike Pence called with his congratulations right away, Bridenstine added.

NASA's mission is the first to study and map the interior structure of the Red Planet.

This is NASA's eighth successful Mars landing - and it first in six years since the Curiosity rover in 2012.

InSight survived the seven minutes of terror to stick the landing on Mars.

"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.

The red planet is comparatively easy to land on and is less likely to melt NASA's equipment than Venus or Mercury, the space administration said.

Because the Martian atmosphere is so thin, it did little to slow InSight's descent. It turns out that's not entirely true-NASA's mission control is waiting anxiously as InSight closes in on the Red Planet, with the knowledge that everything hinges on the final few minutes of the descent.

"It does look like the lander is a bit tilted, which is not ideal, but the workspace looks flat as a pancake and almost rock-free". The device, to be placed on the surface by the lander's robot arm, is so sensitive it can measure a seismic wave just one half the radius of a hydrogen atom.

The $1 billion global effort calls for the robotic geologist to explore Mars' mysterious interior. The mission objectives of the two small MarCOs which relayed InSight's telemetry was completed after their Martian flyby. Scientists will also be able to track radio signals from the stationary spacecraft, which vary based on the wobble in Mars' rotation, according to NASA.

Along with the spacecraft, a pair of mini satellites known as Mars Cube One, or MarCO for short, trailing InSight since its inception also reached Mars.

Only 40% of missions to the planet have succeeded and all have been US-led. The mission will help boffins understand the formation of rocky planets, and the Solar System as a whole, explained Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator.

From now on, it's all business for InSIght, as it will begin to survey the Elysium Planitia region of Mars like no other machine ever sent there. Then, in a couple of months, the probe will set down its seismometer to listen for "Marsquakes", and dig a 4.9-meter-deep hole to learn about the planet's interior.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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