Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

NASA’s Mars InSight lander touches down, sends first pic

Touchdown: NASA's InSight Lands on Mars (VIDEO) NASA’s InSight Spacecraft Lands Successfully On Mars After 300-Million-Mile Journey
Sherry Houston | 27 November, 2018, 06:15

With a host of scientific instruments on board, the lander will study the Red Planet's interior, gathering groundbreaking data about Mars' composition and the planet's tectonic activity.

"Touchdown confirmed", a mission control operator said as cheers erupted and scientists leapt from their seats to hug each other at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We're trying to go back in time to the earliest times on our own planet... to find [on Mars] the fingerprints of those early processes that aren't there on the Earth", said Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator for the project.

The vehicle appeared to be in good shape, according to the first communications received from the Martian surface.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, presiding over his first Mars landing as the space agency's boss, said: "What an unbelievable day for our country". While it'll be some time before that happens, space enthusiasts have something to analyze in the interim: InSight's first photograph of Mars, which can be seen below.

The three-legged InSight settled on the western side of Elysium Planitia, the plain that NASA was aiming for. One is mounted on the arm; the other on the front of the lander.

Flight controllers were relieved to find out promptly that Insight made it to the surface and didn't burn up in the atmosphere or bounce off it.

A post-launch press conference is planned for 2200 GMT. NASA engineers don't call it "seven minutes of terror" for nothing.

It was NASA's - indeed, humanity's - eighth successful landing at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in six years. "We can take a smaller, focused, more riskier mission out into the solar system and take advantage of new opportunities".

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry", Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a news release.

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

The InSight Mars lander has successfully unfurled its two fan-like solar arrays, allowing the robot to generate the power it will need to study the Martian interior for the next two years, NASA officials said late Monday (Nov. 26).

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.

Then, the parachute will deploy, the craft will separate from the heat shield, deploy its three legs and activate radar to sense how far it is from the ground. The self-hammering mole will burrow 5 meters (16 feet) down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the seismometer listens for possible quakes.

Spain's Centro de Astrobiologia made the spacecraft's wind sensors.

InSight, which stands for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport", is a stationary science platform with a suite of instrumentation that will work in concert to give the planet an "ultrasound".

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

Unlike on previous missions, however, the InSight team had the benefit of two experimental satellites that tracked InSight's progress.

Meanwhile, a radio transmitter will send back signals tracking Mars' subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet's core and possibly whether it remains molten.

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