NASA successfully lands InSight spacecraft on Mars, first mission to the planet's surface in 6 years
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NASA successfully touched the InSight lander down on the surface of Mars on Monday, with a room of Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers breaking into applause after several breathtaking minutes.
The InSight spacecraft relayed back to NASA's control room that it landed and was functioning as expected. InSight also sent back its first image of the Martian surface:
@NASA: Wish you were here! @NASAInSight sent home its first photo after #MarsLanding:
"It was intense and you could feel the emotion" in the control room, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said after the landing.
Vice President Mike Pence "watched the whole thing" and called Bridenstine right after the landing succeeded, as Pence "is absolutely ecstatic about our program," Bridenstine said.
"There's a reason engineers call landing on Mars 'seven minutes of terror,'" Rob Grover, the lead for InSight's entry, descent and landing team at at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement before the landing attempt.
NASA provided a livestream of InSight's landing, which will is the first mission to Mars since the rover Curiosity landed in 2012. Landing on Mars is an intense undertaking, as only about 40 percent of all missions ever sent to Mars have been successful.
"We can't joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-program into the spacecraft," Grover said. "We've spent years testing our plans, learning from other Mars landings and studying all the conditions Mars can throw at us."
The InSight lander (an acronym, meaning "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport") is scheduled to spend two years drilling into the surface of Mars to study the planet's crust.
Lockheed Martin built all three parts of the InSight spacecraft: The cruise stage, the heat-absorbing shell and the lander.
How NASA will attempt to land InSight:
Once InSight reaches Mars, the spacecraft will disconnect from the cruise stage and begin entry into the Martian atmosphere.
InSight's shell will take the brunt of the high-speed entry until the spacecraft slows down and deploys a parachute.
Then the lander will disconnect from the parachute and fire its on-board descent engines for a vertical landing.
InSight intends to touch down on the Martian surface at only a few miles per hour.
Once on the surface, InSight will begin deploying its primary instruments. These include a seismometer, to measure movement within the Martian crust, and a probe reaching about 16 feet down to measure heat, as well as environmental sensors to collect more data about the Mars atmosphere.
United Launch Alliance launched the InSight mission in May from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.