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NASA's InSight makes dramatic landing on Mars; will track surface temperature and study Marsquakes

NASA's InSight will study the interior of the surface of Mars, and will look for data that will aid in planned human mission.

  • Published: November 27, 2018 12:15 PM IST
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NASA’s InSight lander, a robotic lander to study the deep interior of Mars, has successfully landed on the red planet. The Insight lander constructed by Lockheed Martin took off onboard an Atlas V rocket from Vanderberg Air Force Base on May 5, 2018. After a journey of 205 days and nearly 458 million kilometers, the lander has touched base on Mars.

The dramatic landing at 2.52PM ET (1.22AM IST on Tuesday) had to be completed in a span of just six minutes during which it had slow down from speeds of 12,000 miles per hour to just 5 miles per hour before hitting the Martian surface. This is the eighth successful landing for NASA on the surface of Mars, and no other space agency or country has landed their probe on such demanding surface.

With the successful deployment, InSight’s two-year mission to learn more about the Martian surface has officially begun. In order to get to the surface, InSight had to autonomously deploy a supersonic parachute, gather radar measurements and then ignite its thrusters at the right time for descent. The mission, managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, took around seven minutes to complete and has earned the nickname “seven minutes of terror”.

The whole plunge was captured by two MarCO satellites, which were launched with InSight in May and have been traveling to Mars on their own ever since launch. These satellites received, deciphered and then sent the signal obtained from InSight back to Earth. The first image sent by InSight showed a flat and dusty surface called Elysium Planitia, but it will spend more time working underneath that surface.

“It’s nice and dirty; I like that. This image is actually a really good argument for why you put a dust cover on a camera. Good choice, right?,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator.

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In a tweet, NASA also confirmed that InSight has successfully unfurled its solar panels and now joins the likes of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on the exploration of Martian surface. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbitee, which observed the entire event from space, is expected to send the information to Earth in the next few hours. This information will be supplemented by observation from NASA’s Mars Odyssey, which will fly over InSight to understand how solar panels are working on the lander.

While it is on the Mars surface, InSight will study the tiny wobbles of the planet during Marsquakes and will use sound waves from these events to figure out interior of the planet. It will then use a robotic arm to deploy two of its primary instruments: a seismometer and a self-hammering nail. The seismometer will listen for the quakes, while the nail will drill almost 16 feet underneath to measure internal temperature. With human mission to Mars planned in the next few years, InSight will offer deeper knowledge of Mars’ interior and might uncover new information as well.

  • Published Date: November 27, 2018 12:15 PM IST