Six minutes of terror, then rover lands on Mars

Mars InSight mission: What Nasa's trip to Red Planet aims to discover

NASA went with its old, straightforward approach this time, using a parachute and braking engines to get InSight's speed from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) when it pierced the Martian atmosphere, about 77 miles (114 kilometers) up, to 5 mph (8kph) at touchdown.

A NASA spacecraft created to burrow beneath the surface of Mars landed on the red planet Monday after a six-month, 300 million-mile (482 million-km) journey and a perilous, six-minute descent through the rose-hued atmosphere. Because of the delay between Mars-Earth communications, it will take seven minutes for NASA to know whether the $425 million-dollar lander has successfully touched down...or crashed into the Martian surface.

"Touch down confirmed!" Mission Control announced as NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory burst into applause.

The InSight spacecraft landed on Mars on Monday after six-month journey to the planet.

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Should the mission be successful, InSight's objective is to study the interior of Mars and gather information about its "vital signs, its pulse, and temperature", according to NASA. The on-board instruments just require a stable, flat surface so NASA chose Elysium Planitia, also referred to as "the biggest parking lot on Mars".

InSight's 1.8m robotic arm will be used to place the instruments on the Martian surface, where they will be calibrated. One took one last photo of the red planet that the satellites' chief engineer, Andy Klesh, titled "farewell to InSight. farewell to Mars". It will now operate from there for the next two years, trying to study the red planet.

Assuming the heat flow probe deploys successfully, the measurements it makes could transform our understanding not only of how Mars evolved, but also how other rocky planets, like Earth, came to be.

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry".

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It was NASA's ninth attempt to land at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes.

There are significant mysteries here, because while both Mars and the Earth were formed from the same stuff more than 4.5 billion years ago, they are now very different planets.

Cheers and applause erupted at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Monday as a waist-high unmanned lander, called InSight, touched down on Mars, capping a almost seven-year journey from design to launch to landing.

While others wondered what the Martians might think of us if they saw the lander on their planet. That will be left to future rovers, such as NASA's Mars 2020 mission, which will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analyzed for evidence of ancient life. InSight will be doing this with the help of the SEIS instrument (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure), a tool equipped with six sensors to measure the ground motions over a wide range of frequencies.

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