An amazing achievement - a new NASA probe just landed on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA InSight probe just landed on planet Mars - space science news - Mars landing
What’s inside planet Mars? Well, we are about to find out! InSight, a NASA Mars lander module just landed on the planet. InSight or, as friends call it, Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, has a clear mission: study in detail the “inner space”, the crust, mantle and core of Mars.

Insight touched down near the equator of the planet, in the western part of a broad plain called Elysium Planitia. It is a quiet place, where the probe can be undisturbed for the duration of its mission. This point is located approximately 373 miles (600 km) north from where the Curiosity rover is currently located.

The lander was lunched on May 5, 2018, two years later than initially planned. Now it has finally reached its destination and it will begin its scientific quest. So, what exactly is InSight going to do?

InSight lander’s mission on Mars

Well, simply put it the lander will peer below the surface to gather data about the structure and composition of the red planet. To do so, it has been equipped with two main instrument packages: a seismometer and a "mole".

The seismometer will be used to study how seismic waves travel on Mars. It is expected that up to a hundred seismic events with a magnitude of maximum 6.0 on the Richter scale could be detected over the course of two years.

InSight lander and its instruments. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech - Adrian Mann/Tobias Roetsch/Future Plc
InSight lander and its instruments - space science news
The “mole” will dig and burrow into the ground and the temperature sensors attached to it will measure the changes in temperature with depth.

InSight is programmed to deploy its seismometer on its 16th day on Mars. Later, on day 38 the lander will deploy a wind and thermal shield that will protect the instruments. Finally, on day 44 the heat probe will be activated followed by the drilling in the ground (on day 50).

The mole is designed to reach a depth between three and five meters, over an estimated time of six weeks. Before you say it is not that much, think about this: never before digging below the surface of another planet with only the limited equipment on board of a small spacecraft had been attempted! If you ask me, it is pretty impressive to remotely dig a five-meter-deep whole from 55 million miles away!

The landing

Landing on Mars is not an easy task. It is difficult because of several particular features of the planet: a relatively strong gravitational pull and a wispy atmosphere. However, this time the task was slightly easier due to the fact that the descent mode that InSight used has been already tested successfully in the field when a decade ago the Phoenix lander reached the surface of Mars.

The NASA and Lockheed engineers had to wait for 8.1 minutes after landing to know whether the spacecraft has made it safely down to the surface. This is the current delay in communication between Earth and Mars.

aliens martians witnessing InSight probe landing on Mars - science meme joke caricatureWhen approaching the planet, Insight came at a high speed (12,300 mph or 19,800 km/h) and the challenge was to dissipate enough energy to slow down before landing.

Moreover, the lander had to get the entry angle at precisely 12 degrees. At a steeper angle the rover would have burnt and at a shallower angle InSight would have bounced off the atmosphere, back into space.

After entering the atmosphere, the lander eventually slowed down to 840 mph (or 1,350 km/h) and the supersonic parachute was deployed. Finally, using its retrorockets, Insight was able to maneuver its way down and touch down on the red planet.

After landing

Immediately after touchdown, the control center of the mission received the first picture from the InSight lander (see below). Now, the probe will begin assessing the landing site and will send more pictures back to Earth.

The very first picture from Mars sent by InSIght lander. The image was taken shortly after landing. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
First picture from Mars sent by InSIght lander
The crew behind this accomplishment is thrilled with the result. Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine declared the vice-president called him moments after landing to pass on congratulations.

The cost of the Insight mission was $850 million. In addition to the lander, the mission also included two briefcase-size cubesats baptized MarCO-A and MarCO-B. They are used as proof-of-concept demonstration to show that cubesats can be used for space exploration. The two little companions did not land on Mars and they flew past the planet continuing their journey.

Landing the InSight probe is a major achievement for science and space exploration, considering that only 40% of the probes sent to Mars have made it safely to the surface.

Scientists are confident this mission will contribute to greater knowledge of the planet Mars, but also of our own planet and the universe itself. It is maybe one step closer towards sending humans to Mars.

Original article by ScienceBriefss Based on materials from https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/

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