NASA’s $1 billion new Mars lander has successfully arrived to the red planet after a nerve-wracking ‘six and a half minutes of terror,’ when it broke through the Martian atmosphere and was subjected to temperatures of more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The InSight lander has been traveling through space for seven months, but its long journey ultimately boiled down to a nail-biting few minutes this afternoon as it attempted to plant its feet on the surface.
Its descent started just before 3pm EST (8pm GMT), with helpless scientists waiting on the final word from a pair of Mars orbiters dubbed Wall-E and Eve to confirm touchdown.
Less than eight minutes after breaking through the atmosphere at 12,300 miles per hour, the team confirmed it had successfully made it to the surface, slowing to just 5mph before putting its feet on the ground.
Scientists could be seen jumping and cheering in the control room as they marked the successful landing, with more than a few wiping tears from their eyes.
The newly minted Mars lander even managed to send an image back to Earth moments after setting down – but, it left the dust-covered lens cap on for a blurry first look at its new home.
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InSight’s first picture: The Mars lander sent home its first photo (pictured above) minutes after its nerve-wracking descent to the red planet. Its view is a flat expanse called Elysium Planitia. But, InSight will be digging deep into the ground to explore what’s happening beneath the surface
NASA’s $1 billion new Mars lander has successfully landed on the red planet after a nerve-wracking ‘six and a half minutes of terror,’ when it broke through the Martian atmosphere and was subjected to temperatures of more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit
InSight’s touchdown now marks NASA’s eighth successful landing on the red planet.
‘The vehicle is reported nominal, this means it’s happy – the lander is not complaining,’ chief engineer Rob Manning said as the team cheered in the control room.
‘It’s going to chug along for the rest of the afternoon on Mars, and continue its activities.’
Experts hope the mission will be the first to unlock geological secrets of the planet’s hidden core, using a probe to dig 16ft (5m) beneath the surface.
A seismometer containing sensors designed and made at Imperial College in London and tested at Oxford University will also examine the impact of earthquakes and meteorite strikes.
The InSight lander has been travelling through space for six months, but its long journey ultimately boiled down to a nail-biting few minutes this afternoon. Its descent started just before 3pm EST, with helpless scientists waiting on the final word from a pair of Mars orbiters dubbed Wall-E and Eve to confirm landing. Many were in tears when landing was finally confirmed
Scientists could be seen jumping and cheering in the control room as they marked the successful landing, with more than a few wiping tears from their eyes
Insight sent its first selfie from the barren surface of Mars shortly after it successfully reached the planet following a seven month trip through space
But, the first instrument InSight will be demonstrating is its camera – albeit with the lens cap still on.
‘My first picture on #Mars!’ the InSight account tweeted after landing, alongside a grainy photo of a reddish brown background.
‘My lens cover isn’t off yet, but I just had to show you a first look at my new home.’
While NASA has numerous Mars landings under its belt, similar attempts have proved a difficult hurdle for many missions.
The Soviet Union never managed to land on Mars, and both attempts by the European Space Agency flopped. By contrast, just one of Nasa’s previous eight attempts have failed.
The new InSight lander has landed in a region known as Elysium Planitia. Its location can be seen in the map above, not far from the Curiosity mission
The first instrument InSight will be demonstrating is its camera – albeit with the lens cap still on. ‘My first picture on #Mars!’ the InSight account tweeted after landing, alongside a grainy photo of a reddish brown background. The space agency released a high resolution version not long after
Experts hope the mission will be the first to unlock geological secrets of the planet’s hidden core, using a probe to dig 16ft (5m) beneath the surface. Pictured: An artist’s impression of Nasa’s InSight lander about to touch down on Mars
The probe, which blasted off from California in May, will rely entirely on its on-board computer to make last-second landing adjustments.
InSight stands to ‘revolutionize the way we think about the inside of the planet,’ said NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen.
In a press conference following the landing confirmation, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine congratulated the InSight team, and revealed even the president and vice president had tuned in.
‘They are overwhelmingly proud of what has gone on here today,’ Bridenstine said.
‘What an amazing day.’
Astronauts aboard the ISS also called in to admit they got goosebumps watching the coverage today, as the world braced itself for the news of the lander’s fate.
The InSight probe entered the Martian atmosphere at 12,300mph before an array of 12 thrusters slowed it down to 5mph for a safe touchdown. An artist’s impression of its Mars entry is pictured
INSIGHT’S THREE KEY INSTRUMENTS
The lander that could reveal how Earth was formed: InSight lander set for Mars landing on november 26th
Three key instruments will allow the InSight lander to ‘take the pulse’ of the red planet:
Seismometer: The InSight lander carries a seismometer, SEIS, that listens to the pulse of Mars.
The seismometer records the waves traveling through the interior structure of a planet.
Studying seismic waves tells us what might be creating the waves.
On Mars, scientists suspect that the culprits may be marsquakes, or meteorites striking the surface.
Heat probe: InSight’s heat flow probe, HP3, burrows deeper than any other scoops, drills or probes on Mars before it.
It will investigate how much heat is still flowing out of Mars.
Radio antennas: Like Earth, Mars wobbles a little as it rotates around its axis.
To study this, two radio antennas, part of the RISE instrument, track the location of the lander very precisely.
This helps scientists test the planet’s reflexes and tells them how the deep interior structure affects the planet’s motion around the Sun.
Despite extensive preparation, Earth’s success rate at Mars sits at just 40 percent, including planetary flybys dating back to the early 1960s, as well as orbiters and landers.
‘Any time you’re trying to land on Mars, it’s crazy, frankly. I don’t think there’s a sane way to do it,’ InSight’s project manager, Tom Hoffman said ahead of the successful event.
Now, with InSight successfully planted on the red planet, it can soon begin digging to analyze the mysterious world beneath the Martian surface.
‘In the years and the coming months, the history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars,’ Hoffman said during the conference.
The team will now spend the next few days looking for the right spot for InSight to put down its seismometers so it can begin collecting data.
‘Now that we’re on the surface of Mars, we have a lot of work to do,’ Elizabeth Barrett, InSight Science Instruments Ops, explained during the press conference.
A seismometer containing sensors designed and made at Imperial College in London and tested at Oxford University will also examine the impact of earthquakes and meteorite strikes. Artist’s impression pictured
The robot will go through an initial assessment phase to check on its overall health and the health of its instruments before it can move on to the deployment phase.
Then, once its finally time to deploy its suite of instruments, that process alone is expected to take two to three months.
InSight will place its seismometer, and only once the team is happy with its location and initial operations will it return to the deck to get its wind and thermal shields, which will sit atop the seismometer for protection.
The lander will then pick up the heat probe to bring to the surface, before beginning its historic dig.
Eventually, once it’s all settled in, Barrett says we’ll be ‘sitting back listening for Mars quakes.’