Sci-tech

NASA's Insight spacecraft touches down on Mars

NASA's Insight spacecraft touches down on Mars

NASA's mission is the first to study and map the interior structure of the Red Planet.

A series of instruments, including a drill that can bury down several feet, will be used to measure the internal temperature of Mars and the wobble of its poles.

The first picture from InSight, taken with a fish-eye lens and through a dust cover, shows the planet's horizon, which NASA said suggests the landing was a success.

REUTERS/Mike Blake NASA engineers in the space flight operation facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) react as the first picture arrives from the spaceship InSight after it landed on Mars from JPL in Pasadena, California, U.S. November 26, 2018.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, presiding over his first Mars landing as the space agency's boss, said: "What an incredible day for our country".

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Speeding faster than a bullet at 12,300 miles (19,800 kilometers) an hour, the heat-shielded spacecraft encountered scorching friction as it entered the Mars atmosphere.

Ahead of the landing, the mission control team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles conducted a final adjustment to the InSight's flight path on Sunday to steer the spacecraft closer to its target arrival point over Mars.

It landed less than 600 kilometres from NASA's Curiosity rover, which until Monday was the youngest working robot on the planet. Part of this is due to the thin Martian atmosphere, which is only 1% of Earth's, so there's nothing to slow down something trying to land on the surface. The successful landing is a feat of engineering and space savvy, as only about 40 percent of missions that have been sent to Mars (by any space agency) have met with success. It will now proceed to study the planet's core to understand how Mars formed.

InSight's first photo from the martian surface. "With that, we're actually doing atmospheric science as we're passing by Mars, and we'll be digging through that data as well", Klesh said.

Only NASA has so far managed to carry out a controlled entry, descent and landing, and many missions have failed. The landing triggered celebrations across the globe, prompting one complicated handshake between InSight team members that's captivating viewers.

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Key to InSight's continued survival on the harsh surface of Mars is the deployment of its solar panels, which were stowed for the descent. And Tuesday night, the Mars Odyssey orbiter should confirm that the spacecraft's solar arrays have unfurled.

The MarCO-A cubesat also indirectly performed science during the flyby as its radio signals were occluded by the planet as it passed behind Mars.

InSight arrived on Mars's Elysium Planitia area north of its equator, described as an ideal spot for its flat, rockless surface.

Assuming the heat flow probe deploys successfully, the measurements it makes could transform our understanding not only of how Mars evolved, but also how other rocky planets, like Earth, came to be.

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