NASA’s InSight spacecraft lands on Mars after six-month journey

NASA’s InSight spacecraft lands on Mars after six-month journey

It launched May 5. Radio signals confirming the landing took more than eight minutes to cross the almost 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) between Mars and Earth. It will now operate from there for the next two years, trying to study the red planet.

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.

The US space agency's robotic lander is on a mission to find out how warm and geologically active the planet is.

Touchdown: NASA's InSight Lands on Mars (VIDEO)

It's due to land on a flat plain, marking Nasa's first visit to Mars in six years.

The Mission Control team announced the rover had successfully touched down following a tense few-minute wait. So, engineers from the space agency were twitchy sending off InSight and its satellites, particularly when it hit Mars" atmosphere and was faced with "seven minutes of terror'.

"The main goal of InSight is to understand what the fundamental makeup is of Mars, as in how large the core is, how large the mantle is and how large the crust is", says Tom Hoffman, project manager for InSight at JPL.

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

Although NASA emphasized the experimental nature of the cubesats prior to the landing, the MarCO spacecraft performed as intended, receiving the UHF telemetry from InSight during its entry, descent and landing phase and rebroadcasting it at X-band frequencies received by NASA's Deep Space Network.

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry", said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Up to now, the success rate at the red planet was only 40 per cent, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landing by the US, Russia and other spacefaring countries since 1960. InSight is now sitting on Elysium Planitia, a plot of land near the Gale crater, near the equator, and has beamed back its first snap to show it's alive.

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Then, the parachute will deploy, the craft will separate from the heat shield, deploy its three legs and activate radar to sense how far it is from the ground. A third experiment, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment or RISE, sits on the lander itself and will monitor the position of Mars' North Pole to determine how much the planet is wobbling. But just moments after landing-plus the eight minutes and seven seconds it takes for a radio signal to travel from Mars to Earth-the InSight spacecraft beamed home its first image from the Martian surface.

This will be the first probe to dedicate its investigations to understanding Mars' interior.

"We never take Mars for granted".

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"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.

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