NASA's 'InSight' spacecraft touches down on Mars

A NASA spacecraft designed to burrow beneath the surface of Mars landed on the red planet Monday after a six-month, 300 million-mile journey and a perilous, six-minute descent through the rose-hued atmosphere.


InSight is the first robot to land on Mars since 2012, when the Curiosity rover took two worlds by storm on one day. But unlike its wheeled cousins, InSight will be sticking in one place. Rather than rolling around on the surface, it will drill below it to investigate what is going on inside our neighbor.

"It was intense," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said following the landing, which included a nerve-wracking six-minute descent through the Martian atmosphere during which a high-speed parachute deployment and landing went off perfectly.

Bridenstine was among those on hand at mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He passed on congratulations from Vice President Mike Pence.

"Incredible milestone," the vice president tweeted.

The lander is equipped with gear developed around the world to detect "Marsquakes" (earthquakes, but on Mars) and study the internal structure of the planet.

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry," said Lori Glaze, acting director of NASA's Planetary Science Division in a statement. "Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbor as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system." 

We've already gotten the first image from the surface. More important for the sustained success of the mission, NASA awaits confirmation that the lander's two solar arrays have successfully deployed. To do this, InSight will need to wait a while until all the dust kicked up from landing has settled.

Unfortunately, by the time the solar arrays are unfurled, the MarCO cubesats launched along with InSight and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will be out of view of Insight. That means that NASA will need to wait over five hours to get confirmation that InSight's solar panels are up and working.

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