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

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It survived a fiery "6 minutes of terror", during which Earthbound NASA engineers waited in blindness as their craft pierced the Martian atmosphere and hurtled toward the surface.

Carrying instruments that detect planetary heat and seismic rumblings never measured anywhere else but Earth, the stationary lander streaked into the thin Martian atmosphere at 19,795km per hour.

Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles said the successful landing was confirmed by signals relayed to Earth from one of two miniature satellites that were launched along with InSight and flying past Mars when it arrived.

NASA erupted into applause as they celebrated their spacecraft landing on Mars. The seismic waves marsquakes produce will be used by InSight to create a 3-D picture of Mars's interior-but they can also be used to study meteorites thudding into the surface.

"He watched the whole thing, he is absolutely ecstatic about our programme, as you're aware he's the chairman of the National Space Council, and he's been a keen advocate of what we do and to have him call within seconds of mission success is incredible".

"It is wonderful news that the InSight spacecraft has landed safely on Mars", said Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency.

NASA reports that InSight's automated landing sequence performed perfectly and the probe is conducting systems checks in preparation for science operations.

NASA's $993 million Mars InSight lander has successfully touched down on the Red Planet to listen for quakes and study how rocky planets formed, the United States space agency has said.

People celebrate as the In Sight lander touchdowns on Mars at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
People celebrate as the In Sight lander touchdowns on Mars at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The site is roughly 600km from the 2012 landing spot of the car-sized Mars rover Curiosity, the last spacecraft sent to the Red Planet by NASA. The picture was speckled with dirt because the dust cover was still on the lander's camera, but the terrain at first glance looked smooth and sandy with just one sizable rock visible - pretty much what scientists had hoped for.

NASA's InSight Mars lander captured this view of its surroundings shortly after touching down on the Red Planet on November 26, 2018.

NASA officials say InSight's instruments should be up and running in about two or three months.

This will be the first probe to dedicate its investigations to understanding Mars' interior. "But even after landing, we'll need to be patient for the science to begin", Bruce Banerdt of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, InSight's principal investigator, said in a statement. The team was extremely happy with the landing, as you can see in the tweet below.

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

The robot absolutely has to start generating power to operate its systems and to warm equipment in the sub-zero temperatures that persist on the Red Planet. That's important as NASA prepares to deploy InSight's solar panels later today.

The suite of geophysical instruments on InSight sounds like a doctor's bag, giving Mars its first "checkup" since it formed. While InSight slowed itself with its parachute, it was too heavy to reach a safe landing speed.

The NASA Viking probes of the mid-1970s were equipped with seismometers, too, but they were bolted to the top of the landers, a design that proved largely ineffective.

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