Completing its 300 million mile (458 million km) voyage, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport Lander (aka InSight) successfully arrived onto the surface of Mars. Tensions rose at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the base of the mission’s Entry, Descent, and Landing team (EDL), as the spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere at a speed of 12,300mph (19,800kph). The Martian atmosphere, merely 1% the size of Earth’s, offers little friction to aid the descent of any spacecraft. The difficult entry into Mars has been dubbed by engineers as “seven minutes of terror.” During its descent, InSight began reducing its speed to around 5mph (8kph) while performing several tasks autonomously where any slightest error could result in catastrophic failure. Fortunately, this was not the case as InSight touched down and the team in mission control roared in celebration.
InSight landed in Elysium Planitia, considered “the biggest parking lot on Mars.” Upon arrival, a signal relayed to NASA’s Deep Space Network via the experimental MarCO CubeSats, which ejected from the spacecraft before the descent, confirmed the successful landing. Only a startling 40% of missions to Mars operated by any space agency arrive intact, and the United States remains the only nation on Earth to have completed a Martian landing, with InSight marking the eighth time in human history. In a press conference, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine remarked, “This accomplishment represents the ingenuity of America and our international partners, and it serves as a testament to the dedication and perseverance of our team. The best of NASA is yet to come, and it is coming soon.”
Now that the tumultuous journey has ended, InSight may begin its two year mission studying Mars’ deep interior, where its expected to uncover additional information on how terrestrial planets and moons form. Data gathering will be possible within the mission’s first week following. In the meantime, InSight’s robotic arm will capture images of the rugged Martian landscape, beeming it back to Earth. The total mission duration on the surface will last one Martian year (2 Earth years) until November 24, 2020.