A NASA spacecraft has landed on Mars to explore the planet's interior.
"Touchdown confirmed!" a flight controller called out, touching off a celebration that was a complete turnaround from the nail-biting anxiety that gripped the control room as the spacecraft made its six-minute descent. Radio signals confirming the landing took more than eight minutes to cross the almost 160 million kilometres between Mars and Earth. 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.
It was Nasa's - indeed, humanity's - eighth successful landing at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in six years.
NASA's $850 million InSight mission is created to probe the interior of Mars with a seismometer, heat probe and other instruments to study how the planet formed.
"Its new home is Elysium Planitia, a still, flat region where it's set to study seismic waves and heat deep below the surface of the Red Planet for a planned two-year mission", NASA tweeted. It landed less than 400 miles (600 kilometers) from NASA's Curiosity rover, which until Monday was the youngest working robot in town.
The plan called for the spacecraft to go from 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat as it pierced the Martian atmosphere and settled on the surface.
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.
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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.
"Ultimately, the day is coming when we land humans on Mars", Bridenstine said, adding that the goal is to do so by the mid 2030s. "This team of really mostly part-timers on the project has proven the technology we were trying to demonstrate with this mission, being able to support a large craft like InSight", he said.
"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. "It's such a risky thing that there's always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong". Less than a minute later, InSight cut its parachute free and its 12 retrorockets fired, providing the probe with an additional braking force and allowing it to settle neatly onto the planet's surface.
InSight will not be looking for life on Mars.
It will spend 24 months - about one Martian year - taking seismic and temperature readings to unlock mysteries about how Mars formed and, by extension, the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets of the inner solar system.
InSight is being followed to Mars by two mini-spacecraft comprising NASA's Mars Cube One (MarCO), the first deep-space mission for CubeSats, which attempt to relay data from InSight as it enters the planet's atmosphere and lands. That will be left to future rovers, such as Nasa's Mars 2020 mission, which will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analysed for evidence of ancient life. No lander has dug deeper than several inches, and no seismometer has ever worked on Mars. Why, for instance, is Earth tectonically active but Mars isn't? But tomorrow begins an exciting new chapter for InSight: "surface operations and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase".
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.