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NASA’s InSight lands on Mars and its calendar is full until 2020

After over six months of travelling through space and covering a journey of more than 300 million miles, NASA's Mars science lander InSight touched down safely on the surface of red planet. Here is all you need to know about the mission.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 29, 2018 8:45:38 pm
NASA's Mars InSight lander An 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)

After over six months of travelling through space and covering a journey of more than 300 million miles, NASA’s Mars science lander InSight touched down safely on the surface of the red planet on Monday. Minutes after landing, engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles received a fuzzy “selphie” photograph from the neighbouring planet.

The 880-pound (360 kg) InSight – its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport – marks the 21st US-launched Mars mission. It will now operate from there for the next two years, trying to study the red planet. Here is all you need to know about the NASA’s InSight spacecraft

What is NASA’s Mars InSight lander?

NASA’s InSight spacecraft opens a window into the “inner space” of Mars. Using the lander NASA plans to study the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the solar system. By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will address fundamental questions about the formation of Earth-like planets by detecting the fingerprints of those processes buried deep within the interior of Mars, the space agency says.

What will NASA’s Mars InSight lander study?

InSight will address a fundamental issue of solar system science, not just specific questions about a single planet. It will look at the insides of Mars – what it’s made of, how that material is layered and how much heat seeps out of it.

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InSight will not be looking for life on Mars. That will be left to future rovers, such as NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, which will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analyzed for evidence of ancient life.

Why was Mars chosen for landing?

Mars and Earth were very similar — warm, wet and shrouded in thick atmospheres — before they took different paths 3-4 billion years ago. Mars stopped changing, while Earth continued to evolve. With InSight, scientists hope to compare Earth to Mars and better understand how our solar system’s rocky planets formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they turned out so different – Mars cold and dry, Venus and Mercury burning hot, and Earth hospitable to life.

How did NASA’s InSight spacecraft land on Mars?

Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of space missions. Up to now, the success rate at the red planet has been only 40 per cent. “Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration,” said InSight’s lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt.

“It’s such a difficult thing, it’s such a dangerous thing that there’s always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong.”

The rover began its space journey in May this year and travelled over 300 million miles before landing on Mars today. InSight, a $1 billion international venture, reached the surface after going from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat, using a parachute and braking engines. Radio signals confirming the landing took more than eight minutes to cross the nearly 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) between Mars and Earth.

Insight on Mars: Where, how and why
NASA's Mars InSight lander A life-size model of the spaceship Insight, NASA’s first robotic lander dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars, is shown at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, U.S. November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Along with the spacecraft, a pair of mini satellites known as Mars Cube One, or MarCO for short, trailing InSight since its inception also reached Mars. The satellites provided real-time updates of the spacecraft’s supersonic descent through the reddish skies and also shot back a quick photo from the planet.

The image was marred by specks of debris on the camera cover. “This image is really our farewell to InSight, our wish for good luck and a farewell for Mars itself as we continue on said Andrew Klesh, the chief engineer for the CubeSats.

NASA's Mars InSight lander NASA engineer Kris Bruvold reacts in the space flight operation facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as the spaceship InSight lands on the surface of Mars after a six-month journey, at JPL in Pasadena, California, U.S. November 26, 2018. Al Seib/Pool via REUTERS

What is the equipment of NASA’s Mars InSight lander?

The lander (6m × 1.56m, deck height 83-108 cm) carries a robotic arm 1.8 m long. It is powered by two solar panels and carries a seismometer, heat probe and a radio science experiment. Two complementary engineering cameras help with navigation and hazard avoidance. One is mounted on the arm; the other on the front of the lander.

The main scientific part of the mission will begin after the health of the spacecraft is confirmed. The stationary 360-kilogram lander will then use its robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground. The self-hammering mole will burrow 16 feet (5 meters) down to measure the planet’s internal heat, while the seismometer listens for possible quakes.

No lander has dug deeper on Mars than several inches, and no seismometer has ever worked on the planet. Germany is in charge of InSight’s mole, while France is in charge of the seismometer.

(With inputs from agencies)

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