Nasa’s probe lands safely on Mars, sends picture

Rosemary Collier
November 27, 2018

Cheers and applause erupted at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Monday as a waist-high unmanned lander, called InSight, touched down on Mars, capping a almost seven-year journey from design to launch to landing. In its descent towards the martian surface, the probe first entered Mars' atmosphere, 80 miles above the surface. 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.

The twin "Cubesats" tagging along for the flight to Mars represented the first deep-space use of a miniature satellite technology that space engineers see as a promising low-priced alternative to some larger, more complex vehicles.

More than half of 43 attempts to reach Mars with rovers, orbiters and probes by space agencies from around the world have failed.

Once InSight measures the heat flow number just below its landing site, it can be extrapolated globally, adds Smrekar.

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Flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, leaped out of their chairs, screaming, dancing and hugging, upon learning that InSight had arrived on Mars, the graveyard for a multitude of previous missions. The lander quickly sent back a photo from the surface, showing that it was in a sandy spot, which is what NASA had been hoping for. But before doing that, the craft has to wait for the dust kicked up during landing to settle. Using the lander NASA plans to study the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the solar system.

InSight will spend 24 months, about one Martian year, examining Mars.

Interestingly, meteorite impacts also had an important part to play in the selection of Elysium Planitia as InSight's landing zone, says Suzanne Smrekar, InSight deputy principal investigator, who is also at JPL.

Despite enormous risks and a near 60% global record of failure, NASA has landed its InSight rover safely on the surface of Mars.

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NASA missions have established that billions of years ago the planet was warmer and wetter, more conducive conditions for life. Now that scientist have a pretty solid idea of what's happening on top of the planet, attention has turned to inside and this probe will help give NASA the chance to explore how the planet is made up, from the core outwards. "We are solar powered, so getting the arrays out and operating is a big deal", Hoffman said.

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.

InSight's first job is to deploy solar panels, which will be used to keep the machine running while it treks around Mars. While InSight slowed itself with its parachute, it was too heavy to reach a safe landing speed.

So, it's going to be a little while yet before InSight - which is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - is able to carry out its mission, which is expected to last two years.

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The question of whether life ever existed in Mars' wet, watery past is what keeps driving NASA back to the fourth rock from the sun.

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