After incredible Mars touchdown, InSight sends back its first photos

Jim Bridenstine Michael Watkins Tom Hoffman Bruce Banerdt Andrew Klesh Elizabeth Barrett

Jim Bridenstine Michael Watkins Tom Hoffman Bruce Banerdt Andrew Klesh Elizabeth Barrett

A NASA spacecraft created to burrow beneath the surface of Mars landed on the red planet on Monday after a six-month, 300 million-mile (482 million-kilometer) journey and a perilous, six-minute descent through the rose-hued atmosphere.

The two satellites not only transmitted the good news in nearly real time, they also sent back InSight's first snapshot of Mars just 4½ minutes after landing.

The photo revealed a mostly smooth and sandy terrain around the spacecraft with only one sizable rock visible. Much better pictures will arrive in the hours and days ahead.

It was NASA's eighth successful landing at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in six years.

The spacecraft is NASA's first to touch down on Earth's neighboring planet since the Curiosity rover arrived in 2012.

And in a final crucial phase, NASA said InSight signaled to Earth that its solar panels - twin solar arrays spanning seven feet (2.2 meters) in width - had opened and were collecting sunlight on the surface of Mars.

"In the coming months and years even, history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars", said JPL's director, Michael Watkins. The danger was that the spacecraft could burn up in the atmosphere or bounce off it.

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Scientists at NASA's mission control in California burst into applause on Monday afternoon after the InSight lander safely touched down on Mars.

"We hit the Martian atmosphere at 19,800kph, and the whole sequence to touching down on the surface took only six-and-a-half minutes", said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman. That's why scientists chose Elysium Planitia as InSight's home, according to NASA. Viewings were held coast to coast at museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as New York's Times Square.

By examining the interior of Mars, scientists hope to understand how our solar system's rocky planets formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they turned out so different - Mars cold and dry, Venus and Mercury burning hot, and Earth hospitable to life.

"What an awesome day for our country", said Jim Bridenstine, presiding over his first Mars landing as NASA's boss.

NASA is collaborating with several worldwide scientists who will help analyse the interior of Mars, and Giardini said his team will look out for seismic events and meteoritic impact. It aims to study the deep interior's of Mars.

Still, there are no life detectors aboard InSight.

Follow Insight's mission on the rover's official page here. He said the basic design of InSight was inherited from the Phoenix spacecraft, which landed on Mars May 25, 2008.

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