Science

NASA’s InSight spacecraft lands on Mars; Tweets and sends first photo

NASA’s InSight spacecraft lands on Mars; Tweets and sends first photo

After travelling for nearly seven months and upwards of 300 million miles, NASA's InSight spacecraft finally landed on Mars on 25th November Monday.

InSight will spend 24 months - about one Martian year - recording seismic and temperature readings to unlock mysteries about how Mars was formed and will help explain the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets of the inner solar system.

NASA's InSight lander before touching down on the surface of Mars.

Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles burst into cheers, applause and hugs as they received signals confirming InSight's arrival on Martian soil - a vast, barren plain near the planet's equator - shortly before 3 pm EST (2000 GMT).

NASA hasn't committed to a MarCO-like mission for its next Mars lander, the Mars 2020 rover, but Klesh said the success of MarCO has opened the door to that and other uses of smallsats in deep space.

NASA's $850 million InSight mission is created to probe the interior of Mars with a seismometer, heat probe and other instruments to study how the planet formed.

Mars InSight mission: What Nasa's trip to Red Planet aims to discover
NASA scientists celebrate InSight landing with handshake worthy of the NBA

Practically speaking, InSight is Mars' first geophysicist. The lander also has a French seismometer for measuring quakes, if they exist on our smaller, geologically calmer neighbor. Dust storms, a common feature of Mars, pose no problem for InSight's landing.

If everything goes to plan today, expect a wealth of new information about the history of our planet in the coming months and years. Using its robotic arm, InSight will pluck SEIS from the lander's top deck to place it carefully on the dusty surface. At about seven miles (11 km) up, InSight deployed its giant parachute to decrease speed as the craft neared the surface.

Built primarily by Lockheed Martin Space, InSight cost the USA $813.8 million and France and Germany also pitched in $180 million for the lander's investigations. Going into Monday's landing, the space agency was confident InSight would be able to pull off its arrival because the technology had already been tested on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, which made its Martian descent in 2008. Another instrument (the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, experiment) will also be placed on the surface, deploying a thermal probe that will drill itself several meters into the surface to measure heat percolating through the planet.

Because Mars is further away from the sun than Earth, it gets weaker sunlight, so it's crucial that InSight's solar panels generate as much energy as possible.

NASA said: "Each marsquake would be like a flashbulb that illuminates the structure of the planet's interior".

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