NASA spacecraft lands on red planet after six-month journey

Pablo Tucker
November 27, 2018

Touchdown confirmed! Nasa has successfully landed its spacecraft on Mars and plans to explore the alien world for the next two years.

A drill instrument will be used to measure heat flowing from inside the planet.

After sailing 548 million kilometres on a six-month voyage through deep space, the robotic lander touched down on the dusty, rock-strewn surface of Mars just before 3 p.m. ET. InSight sent its first picture from Mars surface soon after.

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.

Scientists celebrate the landing of InSight. 
Scientists celebrate the landing of InSight

The U.S., however, has pulled off seven successful Mars landings in the past four decades, not counting InSight, with only one failed touchdown.

Ahead of the landing, the mission control team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles conducted a final adjustment to the InSight's flight path on Sunday to steer the spacecraft closer to its target arrival point over Mars.

The twin Mars Cube One, or MarCO, cubesats launched as secondary payloads with the InSight spacecraft in May and flew by Mars as InSight landed on the planet.

Until now, all Mars missions have focused on the planet's surface and atmosphere.

Since 1960, various national space agencies have made 44 similar attempts to land on Mars, but only 18 of those were completely successful, according to NASA.

The friction as Insight traveled through the atmosphere generated intense heat, but the spacecraft's heat shield allowed the lander to withstand temperatures up to 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

The three-legged InSight spacecraft reached the surface after being slowed by a parachute and braking engines, the space agency said.

The first image has already been beamed down Earth by the lander.

Many Mars-bound spacecraft launched by the U.S., Russian Federation and other spacefaring countries, have been lost or destroyed over the years, with a success rate of just 40 percent, not counting InSight. The team was extremely happy with the landing, as you can see in the tweet below. "We also have orbital assets [such as NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter] that can then show us exactly where that impact was, because we are constantly mapping the surface".

"We're proving capability and technology to go to Mars even faster than we could go if we didn't use the moon as a tool", Bridenstine said. The mission is expected to last about two Earth years.

For the InSight mission to be deemed a success, it must deploy its solar panels properly.

There are significant mysteries here, because while both Mars and the Earth were formed from the same stuff more than 4.5 billion years ago, they are now very different planets.

InSight arrived on Mars's Elysium Planitia area north of its equator, described as an ideal spot for its flat, rockless surface.

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