NASA’s InSight spacecraft, the first robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down safely on the surface of Mars on Monday with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings never measured anywhere but Earth.
Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles burst into cheers, applause and hugs as they received signals confirming InSight’s arrival on Martian soil – a vast, barren plain near the planet’s equator – shortly before 3 pm EST (2000 GMT)
Minutes later, JPL controllers received a fuzzy “selfie” photograph of the probe’s new surroundings on the Red Planet, showing the edge of one lander leg beside a rock. A pair of mini satellites trailing InSight since their May liftoff provided practically real-time updates of the spacecraft’s supersonic descent through the reddish skies. The satellite also shot back a quick photo from Mars’ surface.
The image was marred by specks of debris. But the quick look at the surroundings showed a flat surface with few if any rocks — just what scientists were hoping for. Much better pictures will arrive in the hours and days ahead. The three-legged InSight spacecraft reached the surface after going from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat as it pierced the Martian atmosphere, using a parachute and braking engines to slow down.
It was NASA’s ninth attempt to land at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes. All but one of the previous U.S. touchdowns were successful. NASA last landed on Mars in 2012 with the Curiosity rover. Viewings were held coast to coast at museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as New York’s Times Square.