Friday, 14 December, 2018

NASA’s InSight spacecraft lands on Mars after six-month journey

A life-size model of the spaceship Insight Nasa's first robotic lander dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars is shown at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California US on Nov 26 2018 Touchdown: NASA's InSight Lands on Mars (VIDEO)
Andrew Wong | 27 November, 2018, 09:14

NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander successfully touched down on the Red Planet after an nearly seven-month, 300-million-mile (458-million-kilometer) journey from Earth.

The nail-biting entry, descent and landing phase began at 11:47 am (01:10 am IST) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home to mission control for Mars InSight, and ended one second before 01:23 IST.

The satellites provided real-time updates of the spacecraft's supersonic descent through the reddish skies and also shot back a quick photo from the planet.

Because of the distance between Earth and Mars, it took eight minutes for confirmation to arrive, relayed by a pair of tiny satellites that had been trailing InSight throughout the six-month, 300-million-mile (482-million-kilometer) journey. The lander brought along a collection of scientific instruments, including a seismometer, which will be placed 16 feet underground and send back to Earth the first data from the interior of the planet. America isn't good at everything; but we're very, very good at Mars-and that is, and very much ought to be, a source of national uplift.

It was NASA's - indeed, humanity's - eighth successful landing at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in six years. It landed less than 400 miles (600 kilometers) from NASA's Curiosity rover, which until Monday was the youngest working robot in town.

"What a relief", said JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning. We'll be keeping an eye on what happens with InSight from here on out, so stay tuned. "Sometimes things work out in your favour".

NASA's InSight spacecraft opens a window into the "inner space" of Mars. The lander also has a French-made seismometer for measuring quakes, if they exist on our smaller, geologically calmer neighbor.

Another experiment will calculate Mars' wobble to reveal the makeup of the planet's core. Using the lander NASA plans to study the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the solar system.

Engineers celebrate in the space flight operation facility at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California after the spaceship In Sight landed on the surface of Mars on Nov 26 2018

InSight's first job is to deploy solar panels, which will be used to keep the machine running while it treks around Mars. The cubesats, intended primarily as technology demonstrations, were created to provide a realtime relay of telemetry from InSight during landing, without which it would have been hours before controllers knew if the spacecraft had landed successfully.

While InSight isn't unique in the fact that it's successfully touched down on Mars, its mission certainly is.

InSight, a $1 billion global venture, 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. The danger was that the spacecraft could burn up in the atmosphere or bounce off it. "InSight's view is a flat, smooth expanse called Elysium Planitia, but its workspace is below the surface, where it will study Mars' deep interior", the accompanying tweet reads.

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.

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

Across North America, live viewings were held at museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as Times Square in NY. In fact, it will be two to three months before InSight's robotic arm even sets its instruments on the martian surface, according to NASA.

Just before 3 p.m. ET, InSight sent a signal to let scientists on Earth know that it's alive and well.

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