NASA spacecraft lands on red planet after six-month journey

New Mars image

It was NASA's ninth attempt to land at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes. Mission control erupted into cheers as Insight hit the Elysium Planitia, and NASA cameras captured two scientists doing a truly wonderful celebration handshake that rivals anything in the National Basketball Association. InSight also has an experiment (Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, or RISE) that will precisely measure the planet's "wobble" to reveal the size and density of the Martian core. America isn't good at everything; but we're very, very good at Mars-and that is, and very much ought to be, a source of national uplift.

The robotic will slow down from 12,300 miles per hour to zero in six minutes flat as it pierces the Martian atmosphere, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and, hopefully, lands on three legs.

Settling In InSight's first few days on the Red Planet won't be as eventful as the probe's nerve-wracking descent and landing. Ultimately, by giving Mars an internal examination we'll be able to compare the Red Planet's composition with Earth's, greatly improving our understanding of how planets in our solar system-and even exoplanets orbiting other stars-actually form.

NASA last landed on Mars in 2012 with the Curiosity rover.

The heat shield soared to a temperature of 2,700 Fahrenheit (about 1,500 Celsius) before it was discarded, the three landing legs deployed and the parachute popped out, easing InSight down to the Martian surface.

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"There's a reason engineers call landing on Mars 'seven minutes of terror, '" Rob Grover, InSight's entry, descent and landing (EDL) lead, said Monday, Sputnik reported. While surveying the landing site during the planning phase of InSight's mission, scientists studied the ejecta from small impact craters scattered across Elysium Planitia. "It's such a hard thing, it's such a unsafe thing that there's always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong". The stationary 360-kilogram lander will use its 6 feet robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground. The satellite also shot back a quick photo from Mars' surface.

Manning said the landing appeared to be flawless. No other country has managed to set and operate a spacecraft on the dusty surface. "We just love that shaking, and so the more shaking it does, the better we can see the inside".

InSight has no life-detecting capability, however.

Insight will now embark on a two-year mission that aims to shine new light on how the Red Planet was formed by looking deep beneath the surface. That will be part of NASA's next mission, the Mars 2020 rover, which will prowl for rocks that might contain evidence of ancient life.

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