NASA spacecraft lands on Mars after six-month journey

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"We hit the Martian atmosphere at 12,300 mph (19,800 kilometers per hour), and the whole sequence to touching down on the surface took only six-and-a-half minutes", said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. During its descent towards the martian surface, the probe first entered Mars' atmosphere 80 miles (129 km) above the surface. The long-awaited landing came with the usual "seven minutes of terror" while signals from Mars crawled back to Earth at the speed of light.

"He watched the whole thing, he is absolutely ecstatic about our programme, as you're aware he's the chairman of the National Space Council, and he's been a keen advocate of what we do and to have him call within seconds of mission success is incredible".

"Today, we successfully landed on Mars for the eighth time in human history", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The friction as Insight traveled through the atmosphere generated intense heat, but the spacecraft's heat shield allowed the lander to withstand temperatures up to 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hugely popular InSight Twitter handle shot off the first picture of Mars within moments of touchdown and then this message too: "I feel you, #Mars - and soon I'll know your heart". Messages sent by the lander confirmed that all of the craft's systems were functioning "nominally" shortly after its 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. When InSight collided with Mars' upper atmosphere, it was moving at speeds greater than 12,000 miles per hour.

Phoning home: NASA had to wait several minutes before InSight phoned home to say it's okay. They will have to decide exactly where and when to deploy the InSight's instruments, and test all their commands on ForeSight, a replica of the lander housed at JPL.

The first image from InSight
Source NASA

InSight's two-year science mission won't begin right away. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment. InSight followed up its brief hello with an image of the landing site. Now that scientist have a pretty solid idea of what's happening on top of the planet, attention has turned to inside and this probe will help give NASA the chance to explore how the planet is made up, from the core outwards.

When InSight arrives, its scientists will spend two to three months analysing its landing area to determine where to place two of these three instruments, SEIS or the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure and HP3 or the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe.

InSight's first photo from the martian surface.

Key to InSight's continued survival on the harsh surface of Mars is the deployment of its solar panels, which were stowed for the descent.

"I've just received confirmation that there are no rocks in front of the lander", he told AFP. First images appear to confirm this has been achieved.

The question of whether life ever existed in Mars' wet, watery past is what keeps driving NASA back to the fourth rock from the sun.

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