The first NASA lander to explore the interior of another planet successfully landed Monday on Mars. Equipped with a seismometer to measure earthquakes and a temperature probe, the InSight lander will dig 16 feet into the Mars crust to learn about how the red planet — and in turn other planets in our solar system — formed over billions of years.
This afternoon, it pierced the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour. InSight then used a giant parachute, auxiliary retro rockets and atmospheric friction to slow to 5 miles per hour within six and a half minutes in order to land on a Martian plain close to the planet’s equator.
The flat, expansive region was chosen, in part, because its ample access to sunlight will power InSight’s electronic systems throughout the duration of the mission. The landing site’s low elevation also maximized the vertical space between the atmospheric entry point and ground to ensure a safe landing.
Cheers erupted at mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles as a pair of miniature “CubeSat” satellites — affectionately dubbed “Wall-E” and “Eva” by NASA scientists — relayed communications from InSight back to Earth confirming the safe landing.
Within minutes, InSight sent the first picture of its dust-covered surroundings back to mission control.
— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 26, 2018
With the safe arrival confirmed, mission scientists now turn their attention to InSight’s larger mission. “Landing was thrilling, but I’m looking forward to the drilling,” InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt said in a press release. “When the first images come down, our engineering and science teams will hit the ground running, beginning to plan where to deploy our science instruments.”
InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the 21st U.S.-launched mission to Mars. It was launched in May from California and hurtled 301 million miles through space before reaching Mars.
InSight’s mission will last 24 months, the length of one Martian year.