Scientists swing into action after successful Mars InSight landing

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November 27, 2018
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A first image from a dust covered camera on the Insight Mars probe . Photo: NASA

Scientists expect to “hit the ground running” after NASA’s InSight probe successfully landed on Mars at the end of a 300-million-mile (458m Km) journey lasting almost seven months.

The US space agency said the lander touched down Monday, November 26 at noon US Pacific Standard Time on the western side of a smooth expanse of lava called Elysium Planitia. I was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 5.

It has already sent back the first picture from a dust-covered camera.

“We hit the Martian atmosphere at 12,300 mph (19,800 kilometers per hour), and the whole sequence to touching down on the surface took only six-and-a-half minutes,” said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman at JPL.

“During that short span of time, InSight had to autonomously perform dozens of operations and do them flawlessly — and by all indications that is exactly what our spacecraft did.”

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This is the just the eighth successful soft landing by the agency on the red planet and Insight will set itself up to drill below the surface to learn more about its geology and history. The mission is expected to take two Earth years, or one Martian year.

A seismometer will study the “pulse” of mars by studying waves created by marsquakes, meteorite impacts and surface vibrations generated by weather such as dust storms. The last seismometer on the planet accompanied the Viking landers 40 years ago.

A heat probe buried an unprecedented 16 feet underground (5m) measures heat coming from Mars’s interior to help scientists determine how the planet evolved and whether it is made of the same material as the Earth.

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The Insight probe with its main experiments deployed. Photo: NASA

But the first order of business was deploying the solar panels that will power the two-year project. It will begin to collect science data within the first week after landing, although NASA said teams will focus mainly on preparing to set instruments on the Martian ground.

At least two days after touchdown, the engineering team will begin to deploy InSight’s 5.9-foot-long (1.8m ) robotic arm so that it can take images of the landscape.

“Landing was thrilling, but I’m looking forward to the drilling,” said InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt of JPL. “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.”

Another first for NASA was the deployment of two brief-case sized cube satellites known as MarCOs (Mars Cube One) which relayed telemetry from Insight.

“Every Mars landing is daunting, but now with InSight safely on the surface, we get to do a unique kind of science on Mars,” said JPL director Michael Watkins.

“The experimental MarCO CubeSats have also opened a new door to smaller planetary spacecraft.

The success of these two unique missions is a tribute to the hundreds of talented engineers and scientists who put their genius and labor into making this a great day.”