NASA Spacecraft Lands on Red Planet After 6-Month Journey

Theresa Obrien
November 27, 2018

"MarCO was there to relay information back from InSight in real time, and we did that extraordinarily well", said Andy Klesh, MarCO chief engineer, at a press conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here November 26 two hours after the InSight landing. Updates were coming in via radio signals that take more than eight minutes to cross the almost 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) between Mars and Earth.

Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles said the successful landing was confirmed by signals relayed to Earth from one of two miniature satellites that were launched along with InSight and flying past Mars when it arrived shortly before 3pm EST (4am Singapore time).

NASA says InSight's two-year mission will be to "study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all celestial bodies with rocky surfaces, including Earth and the Moon, formed". NASA's Curiosity rover, which arrived in 2012, is still on the move on Mars.

"What a relief", said JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning. "This is what we really hoped and imagined in our mind's eye", he added. "Sometimes things work out in your favour".

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.

Another said: "Thank you NASA!"

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

"The InSight team can rest a little easier tonight now that we know the spacecraft solar arrays are deployed and recharging the batteries", Tom Hoffman, NASA's InSight project manager here at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said in a statement.

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It took the InSight team about four to five years to design and execute the mission, said an engineer at the mission control.

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

Viewings were held coast to coast at museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as New York's Times Square.

A second instrument, furnished by Germany's space agency, consists of a drill to burrow as much as 16 feet (5 meters) underground, pulling behind it a rope-like thermal probe to measure heat flowing from inside the planet. No lander has dug deeper than several centimeters, and no seismometer has ever worked on Mars. Another will use the planet's poles to study its core, and one will hunt for "Marsquakes".

The mission, which took off from California in May this year, will conduct six science investigations on and below the surface of Mars to uncover the evolutionary history that shaped all of the rocky planets in the inner solar system. Its first job was to get a fast picture out. The instruments will have to be set up and fine-tuned.

"I'm excited about getting a good view of the interior", she said. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall.

The goal is to map the inside of Mars in three dimensions, "so we understand the inside of Mars as well as we have come to understand the outside of Mars", Banerdt told reporters. Mars stopped changing, while Earth continued to evolve.

InSight will not be looking for life on Mars. NASA's next mission, the Mars 2020 rover, will prowl for rocks that might contain 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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