'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey

November 26, 2018 by Marcia Dunn
'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
From left, NASA officials Jim Bridenstine, Michael Watkins, Tom Hoffman, Bruce Banerdt, Andrew Klesh and Elizabeth Barrett make statements under a photograph sent from Mars by the InSight lander at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

A NASA spacecraft designed to drill down into Mars' interior landed on the planet Monday after a perilous, supersonic plunge through its red skies, setting off jubilation among scientists who had waited in white-knuckle suspense for confirmation to arrive across 100 million miles of space.

Flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, leaped out of their chairs, screaming, dancing and hugging, upon learning that InSight had arrived on Mars, the graveyard for a multitude of previous missions.

"Touchdown confirmed!" a flight controller called out just before 3 p.m. EST, instantly dispelling the anxiety that had gripped the control room as the spacecraft made its six-minute descent.

Because of the distance between Earth and Mars, it took eight minutes for confirmation to arrive, relayed by a pair of tiny satellites that had been trailing InSight throughout the six-month, 300-million-mile (482-million-kilometer) journey.

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

The picture was speckled with dirt because the dust cover was still on the lander's camera, but the terrain around the spacecraft looked smooth and sandy with just one sizable rock visible—pretty much what scientists had hoped for. Better photos are expected in the days ahead, after the dust covers come off.

'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
Engineers embrace after the Mars landing of InSight in the mission support area of the space flight operation facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool)

It was NASA's—indeed, humanity's—eighth successful landing at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in six years. NASA's Curiosity rover, which arrived in 2012, is still on the move on Mars.

"Flawless," declared JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning. "This is what we really hoped and imagined in our mind's eye," he added. "Sometimes things work out in your favor."

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, presiding over his first Mars landing as the space agency's boss, said: "What an amazing day for our country."

InSight, a $1 billion international project, includes a German mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure Mars' internal heat. The lander also has a French seismometer for measuring quakes, if they exist on our smaller, geologically calmer neighbor. Another experiment will calculate Mars' wobble to reveal the makeup of the planet's core.

"In the coming months and years even, history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars," said JPL's director, Michael Watkins.

Seven hours after touchdown, NASA reported that InSight's vital solar panels were open and recharging its batteries.

Over the next few "sols"—or Martian days of 24 hours, 39½ minutes—flight controllers will also assess the health of InSight's all-important robot arm and its science instruments.

Many Mars-bound spacecraft launched by the U.S., Russia and other countries have been lost or destroyed over the years, with a success rate of just 40 percent, not counting InSight.

'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
From left, NASA officials Jim Bridenstine, Michael Watkins, Tom Hoffman, Bruce Banerdt, Andrew Klesh and Elizabeth Barrett celebrate the Mars landing of InSight during a press conference at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

NASA went with its old, straightforward approach this time, using a parachute and braking engines to get InSight's speed from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) when it pierced the Martian atmosphere, about 77 miles (114 kilometers) up, to 5 mph (8kph) at touchdown. The danger was that the spacecraft could burn up in the atmosphere or bounce off it.

The three-legged InSight settled on the western side of Elysium Planitia, the plain that NASA was aiming for. Project manager Tom Hoffman said the spacecraft landed close to the bull's-eye, but NASA did not have yet have the final calculations.

'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
NASA officials, from left, Michael Watkins, Tom Hoffman, and Bruce Banerdt celebrate after the Mars landing of InSight at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

He said that it was hard to tell from the first photo whether there were any slopes nearby, but that it appeared he got the flat, smooth "parking lot" he was hoping for.

Museums, planetariums and libraries across the U.S. held viewing parties to watch the events unfold at JPL. NASA TV coverage was also shown on the giant screen in New York's Times Square, where crowds huddled under umbrellas in the rain.

The 800-pound (360-kilogram) InSight is stationary and will operate from the same spot for the next two years, the duration of a Martian year. It will take months to set up and fine-tune the instruments, and lead scientist Bruce Banerdt said he doesn't expect to start getting a stream of solid data until late next spring.

"It's going to be awesome. I can't wait to start seeing marsquakes," Hoffman said.

'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
Engineers monitor the landing of InSight in the mission support area of the space flight operation facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (Al Seib /Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool)

Mars' well-preserved interior provides a snapshot of what Earth may have looked like following its formation 4.5 billion years ago, according to Banerdt. While Earth is active seismically, Mars "decided to rest on its laurels" after it formed, he said.

By examining and mapping the interior of Mars, scientists hope to learn why the rocky planets in our solar system turned out so different and why Earth became a haven for life.

'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
An engineer smiles next to an image of Mars sent from the InSight lander shortly after it landed on Mars in the mission support area of the space flight operation facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool)

Still, there are no life detectors aboard InSight. NASA's next mission, the Mars 2020 rover, will prowl for rocks that might contain evidence of ancient life.

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.

'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
Engineer Kris Bruvold, bottom center, celebrates as the InSight lander touch downs on Mars in the mission support area of the space flight operation facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/(Al Seib /Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool)
This photo provided by NASA shows the first image acquired by the InSight Mars lander after it touched down on the surface of Mars Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. Debris kicked up by the lander's rockets covers the camera's protective shield, which will later be removed. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)
'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
This illustration made available by NASA in October 2016 shows an illustration of NASA's InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. NASA's InSight spacecraft will enter the Martian atmosphere at supersonic speed, then hit the brakes to get to a soft, safe landing on the alien red plains. After micromanaging every step of the way, flight controllers will be powerless over what happens at the end of the road, nearly 100 million miles away. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP
'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
In this image provided by NASA, Mars InSight team members Kris Bruvold, left, and Sandy Krasner rejoice, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, inside the Mission Support Area at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., after receiving confirmation that the Mars InSight lander successfully touched down on the surface of Mars. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)
'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
Engineers celebrate as the InSight lander touch downs on Mars in the mission support area of the space flight operation facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/(Al Seib /Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool)
'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
Engineers embrace after the Mars landing of InSight in the mission support area of the space flight operation facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool)
'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey
A image transmitted from Mars by the InSight lander is seen on a computer screen at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (NASA via AP)

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17 comments

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adam_russell_9615
5 / 5 (15) Nov 26, 2018
So exciting to watch this succeed step by step all the way down.
Da Schneib
4.5 / 5 (15) Nov 26, 2018
Excellent. We will learn much from this mission. Congratulations to all involved.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (12) Nov 26, 2018
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3.3 / 5 (7) Nov 26, 2018
So exciting to watch this succeed step by step all the way down.
says Adam_Russell

It was a beautiful, precise touchdown. Classic NASA perfection. MAGA
guptm
5 / 5 (10) Nov 26, 2018
Congratulations to the team! Waiting for the science data...
Nik_2213
5 / 5 (10) Nov 26, 2018
Given the orbiters have spotted several new, if small-ish impact craters, the seismometer may get useful data before Mars' internal processes shift. The impact and deep-quakes collected by Lunar Apollo instruments proved priceless.
betterexists
1.3 / 5 (14) Nov 26, 2018
Rather than Wasting Billions for the sake of people of next millennium (who would then think that We are Neaderthals), we could have spread out floating solar panels all over the oceans for the same amount !
https://cleantech...ippines/
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 26, 2018
Rather than Wasting Billions for the sake of people of next millennium (who would then think that We are Neaderthals), we could have spread out floating solar panels all over the oceans for the same amount !
says betterexists

If you are racially White, then chances are that you do have a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA. NASA has a yearly budget to spend, and a touchdown on Mars makes good Public Relations. Think of it also in that the JPL complement that you see in the photos above are earning their salaries.
Those solar panels that you are referring to would have to be anchored to something so that they couldn't float away.
Expecting another "1" rating from daSchniebo now.
LOL
betterexists
2 / 5 (4) Nov 26, 2018
Rather than Wasting Billions for the sake of people of next millennium

Barrett, who heads InSight's instrument operations said that the process of setting the instruments on the ground will take 2-3 months, followed by another month or two to drill and begin getting science data back. All told, science portion of the mission will begin in March 2019.
https://www.cnet....ns-next/
Thorium Boy
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 26, 2018
This is very good. Now, stop wasting money on the worthless ISS and they could do dozens of these missions, including ice-drilling probes to the moons of the gas giants.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
4 / 5 (4) Nov 27, 2018
@Thorium Boy
The ISS isn't worthless. They have been doing very important science experiments aboard and outside of the ISS, as well.
The astronauts who have remained on the ISS the longest have exhibited physical changes such as lengthening of their body due to weightlessness - stuff that would not have been discovered on the surface of the Earth - but only in LEO.
Another good thing about the ISS is that it fostered a good relationship, interdependence and camaraderie between astronauts/cosmonauts from different nations, ethnicities, races and genders. Quite like a miniature United Nations it is.

We aren't yet into the era of Buck Rogers or Han Solo, so yes, we will just have to settle for probes, rovers and landers, at least for awhile.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2018
Elysium Planitia
This article is about the plain on Mars.
Elysium Planitia
Elysium Planitia topo.jpg

Coordinates 3.0°N 154.7°E
Elysium Planitia, located in the Elysium and Aeolis quadrangles, is a broad plain that straddles the equator of Mars, centered at 3.0°N 154.7°E.[1] It lies to the south of the volcanic province of Elysium, the second largest volcanic region on the planet, after Tharsis. Elysium contains the major volcanoes Elysium Mons, Albor Tholus and Hecates Tholus. Another more ancient shield volcano, Apollinaris Mons, is situated just to the south of eastern Elysium Planitia.
granville583762
5 / 5 (3) Nov 27, 2018
Water on Mars Hematite Blueberries
Opportunities close up near its landing site showing thousands of tiny spherules blueberries of bluish tint contain hematite an iron-oxide mineral precipitated from water Such concretions are found on Earth.
Do not raise expectations even on volcanic regions of the long extinct volcanic regions
Ice under the South Pole This map made with the MARSIS ground-penetrating radar instrument on the Mars Express obiter 2007 the radar is reflected from regions up to 13,000 feet below the surface of Mars South Pole the image shows the thickness of the layers of water ice the black circle is without data This is the largest water reservoir detected on Mars distributed uniformly the Martian surface would cover the planet 36 feet deep in liquid water the flood plains seen on the surface suggest that there was over 10 times as much water originally present on Mars Image from Mars Express
http://www.facult...ges.html
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2018
Drill baby, drill!

supersonic plunge

Just because I find this interesting: speed of sound is quite a bit lower on Mars (240m/s vs. 340m/s on Earth)...though shouting won't do much good since atmosphere is only 1% as dense.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Nov 27, 2018
@antialias_physorg
Just because I find this interesting: speed of sound is quite a bit lower on Mars (240m/s vs. 340m/s on Earth)...though shouting won't do much good since atmosphere is only 1% as dense.
and you'll likely be wearing a helmet... LOL
granville583762
5 / 5 (3) Nov 27, 2018
It appears this planet was flooded in water with volcanoes

Its not landscape vista we seek any more
but detailed images of the microscopic world
The Hematite Blueberries
http://www.facult...nity.jpg
as these are also on earth
the fact these are still on mars
suggests if these rovers get down to it
are given full frame 36megapixel cameras, digital microscopes any instruments to observe the microscopic microbial world and the ability to observe fossilised remains
Will enable these rovers to make headway into this brief period when mars was active
Before all activity ceased and the water froze into the regolith over 4billion years ago
betterexists
not rated yet Nov 27, 2018
"Rather than Wasting Billions for the sake of people of next millennium
https://www.cnn.c...dex.html

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