NASA Successfully Lands on the Surface of Mars

This is the first time a spacecraft successfully landed on Mars in six years.

NASA has once again made history.

After traveling for more than six months, NASA’s $1billion InSight Probe has successfully managed to land on Mars, and sent back its first image, while reporting all systems a go.

An artist illustration of the InSight lander on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
An artist illustration of the InSight lander on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

While the Martian surface is of great interest to scientists, little is known about what is happening inside the planet. For example, we do not know exactly what the core of the planet is made of, and to understand these mysteries, it is necessary to look below the surface.

Until now that was difficult.

However, Insight has landed, and with it, scientists expect to uncover all of its mysteries.

“Today, we successfully landed on Mars for the eighth time in human history,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “InSight will study the interior of Mars and will teach us valuable science as we prepare to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars. This accomplishment represents the ingenuity of America and our international partners, and it serves as a testament to the dedication and perseverance of our team. The best of NASA is yet to come, and it is coming soon.”

InSight’s landing signal was relayed to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, via NASA’s two small experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats, which launched on the same rocket as InSight and followed the lander to Mars. They are the first CubeSats sent into deep space.

InSight's first picture. Image Credit: NASA
InSight’s first picture. The Lens cover is still on, which is why the image appears so blurry. Image Credit: NASA

“We hit the Martian atmosphere at 12,300 mph (19,800 kilometers per hour), and the whole sequence to touching down on the surface took only six-and-a-half minutes,” said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman at JPL.

“During that short span of time, InSight had to autonomously perform dozens of operations and do them flawlessly — and by all indications that is exactly what our spacecraft did.”

One of the first things InSight did after landing was deploying its two decagonal solar arrays, which will provide it with enough power.

As explained by NASA, that process began 16 minutes after landing and took another 16 minutes to complete.

“We are solar powered, so getting the arrays out and operating is a big deal,” said Tom Hoffman at JPL.

“With the arrays providing the energy we need to start the cool science operations, we are well on our way to thoroughly investigate what’s inside of Mars for the very first time.”

Now, the new kid on the block will start probing mars like no mission before it.

InSight is expected to collect scientific data in its first week on Mars, although Mission Scientists will focus mainly on preparing to set InSight’s instruments on the Martian ground. At least two days after touchdown, the engineering team will begin to deploy InSight’s 5.9-foot-long (1.8-meter-long) robotic arm so that it can take images of the landscape.

The camera’s transparent dust cover is still on in this image, to prevent particulates kicked up during landing from settling on the camera’s lens. Picture: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/AFPSource:AFP
The camera’s transparent dust cover is still on in this image, to prevent particulates kicked up during landing from settling on the camera’s lens. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-CALTECH

“Landing was thrilling, but I’m looking forward to the drilling,” said InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt of JPL.

“When the first images come down, our engineering and science teams will hit the ground running, beginning to plan where to deploy our science instruments. Within two or three months, the arm will deploy the mission’s main science instruments, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package(HP3) instruments.”

InSight is expected to operate on the Red Planet’s surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until Nov. 24, 2020. Although as we have seen with previous NASA rovers and Landers, it could continue working well after that.

“That’s one giant leap for our intrepid, briefcase-sized robotic explorers,” said Joel Krajewski, MarCO project manager at JPL. “I think CubeSats have a big future beyond Earth’s orbit, and the MarCO team is happy to trailblaze the way.”

InSight touched down at Elysium Planitia, marking the eighth time NASA has successfully soft-landed a vehicle on the Red Planet.

“Every Mars landing is daunting, but now with InSight safely on the surface, we get to do a unique kind of science on Mars,” said JPL director Michael Watkins.

“The experimental MarCO CubeSats have also opened a new door to smaller planetary spacecraft. The success of these two unique missions is a tribute to the hundreds of talented engineers and scientists who put their genius and labor into making this a great day[BA(1].”

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