Confirmed today at 2:53 pm EST, NASA’s InSight lander safely touched down on the surface of Mars. After six years without a visitor, the red planet will now host a seismic investigator from Earth that will study the planet’s core, drilling 10-16 feet down into its crust to gather clues about its early geological history. The scientists responsible for the craft’s development and journey responded to the craft’s mission success with cheers and elation, relieved from the nervous anticipation filling the last few days of preparations and media presentations.
Live stream viewers watched InSight’s team receive the data feed from the craft in real-time, many as part of in-person watch parties hosted at universities and libraries around the world. In publicity events leading up to the landing, NASA scientists anticipated the craft’s images from the Martian surface would not have much visibility due to dust kicked up from the surface activity. This prediction became reality as the first picture sent back from InSight was speckled with dust.
After unfurling its solar panels, InSight will spend the next few weeks carefully unpacking its instruments. Once fully deployed, measurements will be taken at the surface and underground to measure things like thermal conductivity and vibrational speed to study the structure of the planet’s subsurface. Routine operations will start 2-4 weeks after the InSight’s instruments are in place.
The first photo from InSight received from the surface of Mars. [Credit: NASA/JPL]
InSight, short for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport”, launched aboard an Atlas V rocket on May 5, 2018 with twin CubeSat companions named “Mars Cube One” (MarCO). The nearly seven-month journey to Mars involved several navigational adjustments to keep it on course for its destination. They also performed various tests to ensure its communication and entry, descent, and landing operations tools were working properly.
MarCO further made history during the journey as the first CubeSats, a class of spacecraft based on a standardized small size, to fly into deep space. The MarCO twins were transmitting as expected up to the start time of the landing sequence and locked onto the craft prior to entry. Telemetry data came in perfectly, continuing to prove the case for tiny machines in deep space.
Unlike its rover neighbors, Spirit and Opportunity, InSight will remain stationary throughout its entire mission. Geographically speaking, even its location on the red planet, the Elysium Planitia, will be uneventful, at times described as “the biggest parking lot on Mars”. However, the location’s lack of luster serves a purpose. InSight’s instruments will need a flat, calm surface to ensure successful operations. Its mission is anticipated to last about two years.
Watch the link below to relive InSight’s team elated response to its landing success: