After a six-month journey to the Red Planet and a dramatic entry into the Martian atmosphere, the probe has successfully touched down—and is sending back snaps from its new home.
A hard landing: InSight set down on terra firma just before 3 p.m. US eastern time. When confirmation of the landing came through, mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab erupted in applause and cheers. Soon after, the first image came in, showing the dust-spattered view in front of the craft. Better pictures arrived in the hours that followed.
Phoning home: NASA had to wait several minutes before InSight phoned home to say it’s okay. That signal came from an antenna on board, but additional data on the landing was recorded by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and two CubeSats in orbit as part of the Mars Cube One mission.
What’s next: InSight isn’t in the clear yet. In order to become fully functional, it still has to deploy its solar panels. But before doing that, the craft has to wait for the dust kicked up during landing to settle. NASA’s Mars Odyssey will then fly overhead to confirm that the panels are out. It’ll take several hours before researchers get this thumbs-up, so the big celebrations are on hold a bit longer.
If that goes smoothly … InSight’s robotic arm will place a pair of science experiments on the ground around it. One will dig up to 16 feet (almost 5 meters) beneath the surface to take temperature readings. The other experiment is a seismometer that will look for signs of marsquakes. As we’ve written before, the experiments will give scientists insight into how rocky planets like Mars form, how tectonically active Mars is, and how often the planet gets hit by meteorites.