After seven months of travelling through space, the NASA InSight Mission has landed on the red planet. A few minutes after landing, the InSight sent the official ‘beep’ to NASA to provide the signal that it was alive and well, including a photo of the Martin surface where it landed.
Cheers erupted at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. which operates the spacecraft, when InSight sent back acknowledgment of its safe arrival on Mars, on Monday. That was the end of a journey of more than six months and 300 million miles.
The landing was watched around the world and even broadcast live on the Nasdaq Stock Market tower in New York City’s Times Square.
During a post-landing NASA press conference, the astronauts on the International Space Station called down to congratulate the mission team and said they ‘got some goosebumps’ watching the entire coverage.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstineasserted that “Today we successfully landed on Mars for the eighth time in human history”, adding that “InSight will study the interior of Mars and will teach us valuable science as we prepare to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars. This accomplishment represents the ingenuity of America and our international partners, and it serves as a testament to the dedication and perseverance of our team. The best of NASA is yet to come, and it is coming soon.”
Bridenstine further informed that US Vice president Mike Pence called to congratulate the entire team.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) November 26, 2018
According to reports, in the months ahead, InSight will begin its study of the Martian underworld, listening for tremors, marsquakesand collect data that will be pieced together in a map of the interior of the red planet and would help scientists understand how Mars and other rocky planets was formed.
InSight or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport is going to explore a part of Mars that we know the least about—it’s deep interior.
Those lessons could also shed light on Earth’s origins.
Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator of the mission stated that “We can basically use Mars as a time machine to go back and look at what the Earth must have looked like a few tens of millions of years after it formed.”
It launched May 5. InSight will spend two years investigating the interior where the building blocks below the planet’s surface recorded its history.
To reach Mars, the InSight cruised 301,223,981 miles through space, followed by two cube satellites. The suitcase-size spacecraft, called MarCO, are the first cube satellites to fly into deep space.
MarCOfurther shared data about InSight when it entered the Martian atmosphere for the landing.
Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate stated that “We have studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry.”
Glaze also added that “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.”
— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 26, 2018
The first image taken by InSight includes the dust cover still on the lens, which will be removed this week. The black specks are dust, and there’s a rock in the left foreground. To the right is one footpad of the lander.
The MarCO cube satellites also bid farewell to InSight after it landed and their own mission ended. MarCO-B took an image of Mars from 4,700 miles away during its flyby at 3:10 p.m. ET after helping to establish communications with mission control about the landing.
According to NASA, InSight robotically guided itself through the landing. The landing itself is a tricky maneuver. NASA engineers don’t call it “seven minutes of terror” for nothing. In less time than it takes to hard-boil an egg, InSight slowed from 12,300 mph to 5 mph before it gently landed on the surface of Mars.
Tom Hoffman of JPL, InSight’s project manager stated that “Landing on Mars is difficult and takes a lot of personal sacrifices, such as missing the traditional Thanksgiving, but making InSight successful is well worth the extraordinary effort.”
Only 40% of missions sent to the Red Planet by any agency have been successful. Part of this is due to the thin Martian atmosphere, which is only 1% of Earth’s, so there’s nothing to slow something trying to land on the surface.
Like the Phoenix spacecraft, InSight had a parachute and retro rockets to slow its descent through the atmosphere, and three legs suspended from the lander absorbed the shock of touching down on the surface.
But the engineers prepared the spacecraft to land during a dust storm if need be. According to reports, About 20 minutes before landing, InSight separated from the cruise stage that helped bring it all the way to Mars and turned to position itself for entering the atmosphere.
At 2:47 p.m. ET, the entry, descent and landing phase began, and InSight came blazing into the atmosphere at 12,300 mph. Peak heating of the protective heat shield reached 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit two minutes later. This is when the intense heat caused a temporary drop in the radio signal from the craft.
Then, the parachute deployed, the craft separated from the heat shield, deployed its three legs and activated radar to sense how far it is from the ground. After getting that radar signal, it separated from the remaining shell and parachute, firing its descent engines known as retrorockets to help slow it down even more.
In ballet-like fashion, InSight executed a gravity turn to make sure the lander was in the right position before touching down. It slowed until it reached a consistent 5 mph. Then, it touched down at 2:54 p.m. ET.
Just before 3 p.m. ET, InSight sent a signal to let scientists on Earth know that it’s alive and well.
Hoffman asserted that “We hit the Martian atmosphere at 12,300 mph, and the whole sequence to touching down on the surface took only 6½ minutes”, adding “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.”
Bruce Banerdt of JPL, InSight’s principal investigator, said, “It’s taken more than a decade to bring InSight from a concept to a spacecraft approaching Mars and even longer since I was first inspired to try to undertake this kind of mission. But even after landing, we’ll need to be patient for the science to begin.”