InSight Mars lander sends back selfie after fiery landing

Cristina Cross
November 27, 2018

"Touchdown confirmed!" a flight controller called out just before 3 p.m. EST, instantly dispelling the anxiety that had gripped the control room as the spacecraft made its six-minute descent.

NASA engineers were forced to wait until the landing was over to know if it was successful, though, as there's an eight minute delay in communications between Mars and Earth, and the landing only took about seven minutes.

It is NASA's eighth successful Mars landing since the 1976 Vikings. It landed less than 400 miles (600 kilometers) from NASA's Curiosity rover, which until Monday was the youngest working robot in town.

"Flawless", declared JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning. "This team of really mostly part-timers on the project has proven the technology we were trying to demonstrate with this mission, being able to support a large craft like InSight", he said. "Sometimes things work out in your favour".

"InSight is the first mission sent to look at the interior of Mars", Tanya Harrison, Director of Research for the NewSpace Initiative, Arizona State University, told Gizmodo. "But even after landing, we'll need to be patient for the science to begin", Bruce Banerdt of JPL, InSight's principal investigator, said, according to the NASA statement.

What is NASA's Mars InSight 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 three-legged InSight spacecraft reached the surface after going from 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat, using a parachute and braking engines to slow down.

The InSight lander aimed for a touchdown Monday afternoon, as anxiety built among those involved in the $1 billion worldwide effort.

Twitter users reacted in delight to the news, with one joking: "That handshake looked more complicated than the landing!".

InSight acquired this image of the surface of Mars. This was the area in front of the lander
InSight acquired this image of the surface of Mars. This was the area in front of the lander

InSight, a $1 billion worldwide project, includes a German mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure Mars' internal heat.

No lander has dug deeper on Mars than several inches, and no seismometer has ever worked on the planet.

However, they're going to be using a seismometer, which will measure Marsquakes.

Another experiment will calculate Mars' wobble to reveal the makeup of the planet's core.

InSight (the name is short for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport") launched toward the Red Planet on May 5. Its first job was to get a fast picture out.

An artist's impression shows InSight entering the Martian atmosphere, about 128 kilometres above the surface and just minutes from landing.

NASA's mission is the first to study and map the interior structure of the Red Planet. It is critical that we set down the instrument in the best place to ensure we're stable, and then follow up with adding a cover to shield our sensors from the wind.

'I'm rather nervous and tense, ' she said this morning. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall.

All of this comes out over the next year or so on Mars. While Earth is active seismically, Mars "decided to rest on its laurels" after it formed, he said.

InSight will not be looking for life on Mars. That will be left to future rovers, such as Nasa's Mars 2020 mission, which will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analysed for evidence of ancient life. Other instruments on board include RISE, a precision radio tracking of the lander that can determine the direction and motion of the rotation of Mars and the HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe) which will study heat flow by embedding a temperature sensor under the surface of Mars.

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