The Mars InSight lander has touched down on the dusty Red Planet after sailing 548 million kilometres over a six-month voyage through deep space.
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. During the entry, descent and landing phase, the probe was tracked for the first time with a pair of small satellites the size of briefcases created to send data signals back to Earth more quickly.
Members of the mission control team burst into applause and cheered in relief as they received data showing that the spacecraft had survived. The InSight mission, which cost around $814 million, plans to study Mars' deep interior.
Landing on Mars is notoriously troublesome, with 10 out of 17 previous missions failing.
"Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration", InSight's lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt, said before this morning's success.
What counts most at the moment though is that InSight is precisely where it's supposed to be-on Mars's Elysium plain, just north of the equator; and that it's there precisely when it was supposed to be-205 days after its May 5 launch.
VidNASA's InSight lander today successfully fell through the atmosphere of Mars to touchdown in seemingly one piece on the planet's surface. It was the first time the United States space agency tried to land a spacecraft on Mars since 2012, when the Curiosity rover arrived, and its eighth successful overall.
But the engineers prepared the spacecraft to land during a dust storm if need be.
InSight's efforts have the potential to teach us valuable information about the formation of rocky planets in our solar system.
About 20 minutes before landing, InSight separated from the cruise stage that helped bring it all the way to Mars and turned to position itself for entering the atmosphere. It will take about three months for the team to perform all the necessary tests and begin to deploy the instruments that InSight carried to Mars. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment.
Prior to the landing, project officials had hinted they were looking at options for an extended mission for MarCO, but were focused at the time on supporting the InSight landing.
"We are solar-powered, so getting the arrays out and operating is a big deal", Hoffman said. In order to become fully functional, it still has to deploy its solar panels.
An unexpected bonus arrived a few minutes later: The MarCOs transmitted a photo snapped by InSight of its new surroundings.
So, it's going to be a little while yet before InSight - which is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - is able to carry out its mission, which is expected to last two years. With this safe landing, I'm here. First images appear to confirm this has been achieved.
The NASA Viking probes of the mid-1970s were equipped with seismometers, too, but they were bolted to the top of the landers, a design that proved largely ineffective.
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