NASA's InSight spacecraft lands on Mars to explore planet's interior

NASA’s spacecraft InSight landed on Mars Monday

NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander successfully touched down on the Red Planet after an nearly seven-month, 300-million-mile (458-million-kilometer) journey from Earth.

"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.

Flight controllers announced that the robotic geologist, InSight, entered the Martian atmosphere Monday afternoon. Confirmation came via radio signals that took more than eight minutes to cross the almost 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) between Mars and Earth.

The landing data and initial photograph were relayed to Earth from two briefcase-sized satellites that were launched along with InSight and were flying past Mars as it reached its destination.

In 2003, the Beagle II craft disappeared during an attempt to land on the Red Planet and its wreckage was only discovered in 2015. Better photos are expected in the days ahead, after the dust covers come off.

InSight was the eighth spacecraft to have landed successfully on Mars, all of them operated by NASA.

NASA last landed on Mars in 2012 with the Curiosity rover.

"Flawless", declared JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning. We'll be keeping an eye on what happens with InSight from here on out, so stay tuned. "Sometimes things work out in your favor".

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.

Meanwhile, a radio transmitter will send back signals tracking Mars' subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet's core and possibly whether it remains molten. The panels must open to generate power; otherwise, the mission is a bust.

Staff tensely wait in silence, before an announcement is made, saying: "Touchdown confirmed".

Many Mars-bound spacecraft launched by the U.S., Russian Federation and other countries have been lost or destroyed over the years, with a success rate of just 40 percent, not counting InSight.

The robotic will slow down from 12,300 miles per hour to zero in six minutes flat as it pierces the Martian atmosphere, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and, hopefully, lands on three legs. The danger was that the spacecraft could burn up in the atmosphere or bounce off it. But the quick look at the vista showed a flat surface with few if any rocks-just what scientists were hoping for. REUTERS/Mike BlakeHow did NASA's InSight spacecraft land on Mars?

He said that it was hard to tell from the first photo whether there were any slopes nearby, but that it appeared he got the flat, smooth "parking lot" he was hoping for.

With only one failed touchdown, it's an enviable record.

Across North America, live viewings were held at museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as Times Square in NY.

"Its new home is Elysium Planitia, a still, flat region where it's set to study seismic waves and heat deep below the surface of the Red Planet for a planned two-year mission", NASA tweeted.

"It's going to be awesome".

"We are solar-powered, so getting the arrays out and operating is a big deal", Hoffman said.

Mars and Earth were very similar - warm, wet and shrouded in thick atmospheres - before they took different paths 3-4 billion years ago. While Earth is active seismically, Mars "decided to rest on its laurels" after it formed, he said.

InSight will detect geophysical signals deep below the Martian surface, including marsquakes and heat.

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