NASA spacecraft lands on Mars

NASA spacecraft lands on Mars

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have a testbed that looks like a pile of gravel in a lab, complete with boulders and a full engineering model of InSight that they can recreate the landing site with.

A pair of mini satellites trailing InSight since their May liftoff provided practically real-time updates of the spacecraft's supersonic descent through the reddish skies. Radio signals confirming the landing took more than eight minutes to cross the almost 160 million kilometres between Mars and Earth.

But as expected, the dust kicked up during the landing obscured the first picture InSight sent back, which was heavily flecked.

It was NASA's - indeed, humanity's - eighth successful landing at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in six years.

"Flawless", declared JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning. "Sometimes things work out in your favour". NASA hasn't committed to a MarCO-like mission for its next Mars lander, the Mars 2020 rover, but Klesh said the success of MarCO has opened the door to that and other uses of smallsats in deep space.

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

Timothy Schmidt, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of NSW told Scimex, "The InSight mission will allow us to peer beneath the immediate surface of Mars for the first time".

Many Mars-bound spacecraft launched by the U.S., Russian Federation and other countries have been lost or destroyed over the years, with a success rate of just 40 percent, not counting InSight.

InSight, a $1 billion worldwide 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.

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It's risky business to descend through the Martian atmosphere and land, even for the US, the only country to pull it off.

Across North America, live viewings were held at museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as Times Square in NY.

InSight, a $1 billion global project, includes a German mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure Mars' internal heat. Nothing has ever dug deeper into Mars than several inches.

Johnson's team is studying marsquakes, including where they happen, to figure out active faults.

These instruments include the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structures to investigate what causes the seismic waves on Mars the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package to burrow beneath the surface and determine heat flowing out of the planet and the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment to use radios to study the planet's core. The thee-legged, one-armed InSight will operate from the same spot for the next two years.

InSight robotically guided itself through the landing, outside of a few last minute tweaks by the entry, descent and landing team to the algorithm that guides the lander to the surface. The instruments will have to be set up and fine-tuned. "We had one more gift that we could give", Klesh said to applause from the audience in the press conference auditorium as he revealed the image. "We have so many unanswered questions about its interior because we haven't had a good look at it before". Mars stopped changing, while Earth continued to evolve.

By examining and mapping the interior of Mars, scientists hope to learn why the rocky planets in our solar system turned out so different and why Earth became a haven for life.

InSight will not be looking for life on Mars.

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