After more than six months of traversing deep space, NASA's new lander, InSight, has successfully touched down on the surface of Mars.
On Monday, Nov. 26, the robotic explorer sent back signals indicating that it has unrolled its solar panels and is now soaking up sunlight to recharge its batteries. The Mars Odyssey orbiter relayed the signal to ground control on Earth at around 5:30 p.m. PST.
"It's been a long day for the team," stated Tom Hoffman, the project manager behind InSight. "But tomorrow begins an exciting new chapter for InSight: surface operations and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase."
InSight Lands On Mars
InSight's descent to Red Planet's surface began when the spacecraft approached the planet's thin atmosphere at about 12,300 miles per hour. After that, it went through what scientists call "seven minutes of terror" in which engineers from NASA could not control nor interfere with the landing of the $828-million spacecraft.
The Mars lander then slowed its descent using a large parachute before it separated from its backshell. From then on, the lander's 12 descent engines fired up, further slowing down its descent until it reached the ground safely.
It took InSight six minutes from entering the Martian atmosphere to landing on the Elysium Planitia. The lander touched down on Mars at exactly 11:52:59 a.m. PST.
The mission marks the eighth successful landing on the surface of Mars.
What To Expect From InSight
InSight's two-year mission on Mars will not begin immediately. In the next couple of days, NASA will one by one unfurl the lander's scientific equipment starting with its robotic arm. According to the U.S. space agency, it would take two to three months before InSight's instruments are ready to be used and send back data to Earth.
In the meantime, the Mars lander will use its weather sensors and magnetometer to report back the conditions from Elysium Planitia.
InSight has already sent back its first photo from the surface of the red planet.
My first picture on #Mars! My lens cover isn't off yet, but I just had to show you a first look at my new home. More status updates:https://t.co/tYcLE3tkkS #MarsLanding pic.twitter.com/G15bJjMYxa — NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 26, 2018
InSight's goal is to study the deep interior of Mars and to learn how rocky bodies in the solar system, including Earth, were formed billions of years ago. It is the first robotic explorer to study the "inner space" of Mars.