NASA's InSight Probe Has Sent Back Its First Photos From Mars

NASA's InSight Probe Has Sent Back Its First Photos From Mars

NASA's InSight Probe Has Sent Back Its First Photos From Mars

An American spacecraft has successfully reached Mars after nearly seven months travelling through space, allowing scientists to understand more about the planet's interior.

InSight and MarCO flight controllers monitored and cheered for the spacecraft's successful entry, descent and landing from mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

NASA engineers were forced to wait until the landing was over to know if it was successful, though, as there's an eight minute delay in communications between Mars and Earth, and the landing only took about seven minutes. InSight is equipped with two cameras: the one that produced this picture is on the main body of the spacecraft and captures fish-eye images, which maximizes the field of vision for close-up work.

InSight and the next Mars rover mission, scheduled for 2020, are both seen as precursors for eventual human exploration of Mars, an objective that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Monday might be achieved as early as the mid-2030s.

NASA last landed on Mars in 2012 with the Curiosity rover. In less time than it takes to hard-boil an egg, InSight slowed from 12,300 miles per hour to 5 miles per hour before it gently landed on the surface of Mars, according to NASA.

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

The robotic geologist - created to explore Mars' mysterious insides - must go from 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat as it pierces the Martian atmosphere, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and lands on three legs.

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.

In ballet-like fashion, InSight executed a gravity turn to make sure the lander was in the right position before touching down.


What will NASA's Mars InSight lander study?

"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 the landing. InSight's own Twitter feed explained the poor quality of the image: "My lens cover isn't off yet, but I had to show you a first look at my new home". It should take about six minutes for InSight to get to the surface and land, slowed by a parachute and descent engines.

InSight was shooting for Elysium Planitia, a plain near the Martian equator that the InSight team hopes is as flat as a parking lot in Kansas.

Still, there are no life detectors aboard InSight.

"In the coming months and years even, history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars", said JPL's director, Michael Watkins.

Once landed, the stationary probe was programmed to pause for 16 minutes for the dust to settle, literally, around its landing site, before 2 disc-shaped solar panels were to be unfurled like wings to provide power to the spacecraft.

By examining the interior of Mars, scientists hope to 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.

No lander has dug deeper on Mars than several inches, and no seismometer has ever worked on the planet. The geologic record of Mars is preserved far better than that of Earth, which has active tectonic plates and heat convection from its core, dynamic processes that tend to obliterate physical evidence from eons past.

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