NASA InSight successfully lands on Mars after 'seven minutes of terror'

A life-size model of the spaceship Insight NASA's first robotic lander dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars. REUTERS

A life-size model of the spaceship Insight NASA's first robotic lander dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars. REUTERS

At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Mission Control and the nearby von Karman Auditorium, the voices of engineers, scientists, media representatives and attendees from social media joined together in an eruption of cheers!

The space agency has revealed in its latest update that the probe has also successfully deployed its solar panels - needed to power the lander - on the Red Planet.

The spacecraft was launched from California in May on its almost $1 billion mission. InSight sent its first picture from Mars surface soon after.

InSight arrived on Mars's Elysium Planitia area north of its equator, described as an ideal spot for its flat, rockless surface. By extension, this will help to explain the origins of Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system.

"It was intense, and you could feel the emotion, it was very quiet when it was time to be quiet and of course very celebratory with every little new piece of information that was received", said Jim Bridenstine, Nasa administrator.

An American spacecraft has successfully reached Mars after nearly seven months travelling through space, allowing scientists to understand more about the planet's interior.

The landing was very critical and rather hard; according to NASA engineers the Mars landing was preceded by "seven minutes of terror" as the robot had to rapidly decelerate from a speed of 12,300 miles per hour to mere 5 miles per hour.

During touchdown, its possible that InSight's landing jets kicked up a LOT of dust!

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The smaller, 360kg InSight- its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport-marks the 21st US-launched Mars mission, dating back to the Mariner fly-bys of the 1960s. Compared to other countries, the US has an impressive record of successfully landing on Mars seven times in 40 years and failing just once.

The heat shield soared to a temperature of 2,700 Fahrenheit (about 1,500 Celsius) before it was discarded, the three landing legs deployed and the parachute popped out, easing InSight down to the Martian surface.

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

"By studying how seismic waves pass through the different layers of the planet (the crust, mantle and core), scientists can deduce the depths of these layers and what they're made of".

But engineers at NASA still experienced what they call "seven minutes of terror" as the lander made its automated descent Monday afternoon.

Apollo missions to the moon brought seismometers to the lunar surface as well.

"We're trying to go back in time to the earliest times on our own planet... to find [on Mars] the fingerprints of those early processes that aren't there on the Earth", said Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator for the project.

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