NASA’s InSight Spacecraft Successfully Touches Down on Mars

A life-size model of the spaceship Insight NASA's first robotic lander dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars. REUTERS

A life-size model of the spaceship Insight NASA's first robotic lander dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars. REUTERS

The spacecraft is NASA's first to touch down on Earth's neighboring planet since the Curiosity rover arrived in 2012.

In addition to the InSight telemetry, one of the cubesats, MarCO-B, returned an image of Mars taken shortly after the landing, as the spacecraft was passing 6,000 kilometers from the planet.

InSight, or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is going to explore a part of Mars that we know the least about: its deep interior. The bold two-year mission will study the interior of the planet.

NASA's long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. And besides, InSight cares little for the superficialities on the surface; its interest lies far deeper. "This was an awesome, incredible day", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The nail-biting entry, descent and landing phase began at 11:47 am (1940 GMT) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home to mission control for Mars InSight, and ended one second before 1953 GMT.

The landing itself is a tricky maneuver. For these seven long minutes, dubbed the " seven minutes of terror", the engineers waited to confirm whether the probe had landed safely - which, thankfully, it had. During its descent towards the martian surface, the probe first entered Mars' atmosphere 80 miles (129 km) above the surface.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have a testbed that looks like a pile of gravel in a lab, complete with boulders and a full engineering model of InSight that they can recreate the landing site with. The landing triggered celebrations across the globe, prompting one complicated handshake between InSight team members that's captivating viewers.

The pioneering mission will also mark a milestone in this nation's space industry because it could be the very first time British technology has survived a journey to the Red Planet.

It will help explain how all rocky planets, including the Earth, evolved.

InSight, a almost $1.5 billion NZD worldwide venture, reached the surface after going from 19,800 km/h to zero in six minutes flat, using a parachute and braking engines.

Debris partially obscures a Mars landscape in the first frame sent by Nasa's InSight lander from Mars's surface after a successful landing on Nov 26, 2018. At one point, it descended through the atmosphere at a speed of 12,300 miles per hour, compressing the surrounding gas, and generating temperatures up to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit or 1,500 degrees Celsius. This is when the intense heat caused a temporary drop in the radio signal from the craft.

When the craft was a good distance away from the surface, a parachute 12 metres in diameter deployed at a supersonic speed.

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