NASA spacecraft making descent to Mars

NASA spacecraft making descent to Mars

NASA spacecraft making descent to Mars

NASA once again made space history on Monday with the successful landing of the InSight mission onto the surface of Mars.

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 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) between Mars and Earth.

Engineer Kris Bruvold celebrates as the InSight lander touch downs on Mars.

"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.

It was NASA's ninth attempt to land at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes.

While InSight's main mission goals are hidden away out of sight under the planet's surface, it is equipped with two cameras designed for navigation and hazard avoidance. NASA's Curiosity rover, which arrived in 2012, is still on the move on Mars.

The lander set down right on target in what Nasa described as "the biggest parking lot on Mars" - a boring, featureless plain on the equator whose name, ...

"While most of the country was enjoying Thanksgiving with their family and friends, the InSight team was busy making the final preparations for Monday's landing", said Tom Hoffman of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who is InSight's project manager.

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The twin "Cubesats" tagging along for the flight to Mars represented the first deep-space use of a miniature satellite technology that space engineers see as a promising low-priced alternative to some larger, more complex vehicles. NASA's three-legged, one-armed geologist known as InSight makes its grand entrance through the rose-tinted Martian skies on November 26, 2018. 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.

Just before 3 p.m. ET, InSight sent a signal to let scientists on Earth know that it's alive and well. Less than a minute later, InSight's 12 retrorockets fired, providing the probe with an additional braking force, and allowing it to settle neatly onto the planet's surface.

InSight came to rest as planned in the middle of a vast, barren plain called the Elysium Planitia, close to the planet's equator.

InSight also shared the first picture from Mars on Twitter saying: "My lens cover isn't off yet, but I just had to show you a first look at my new home".

The stationary 360-kilogram lander will use its 1.8-meter robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground.

With InSight, scientists hope to compare Earth to Mars and better understand how our solar system's rocky planets formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they turned out so different - Mars cold and dry, Venus and Mercury burning hot, and Earth hospitable to life.

"Landing on Mars is exciting, but scientists are looking forward to the time after InSight lands", said Glaze. That will be part of NASA's next mission, the Mars 2020 rover, which will prowl for rocks that might contain evidence of ancient life. The self-hammering mole will burrow five metres down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the seismometer listens for possible quakes.

He said that it was hard to tell from the first photo whether there were any slopes nearby, but that it appeared he got the flat, smooth "parking lot" he was hoping for.

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