After an epic journey that lasted seven months and more than 300 million miles through space, NASA’s historic InSight mission has finally landed on Mars.
The InSight Mars lander touched down on Elysium Planitia, just north of the Martian equator, at around 2.54 p.m. EST earlier today — and has already sent home its first photo from its new home.
According to NASA, mission engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, have picked up a radio signal — either coming from the InSight lander or from one of the two MarCO mini-satellites accompanying the mission — which let them know that the spacecraft has made contact with Martian soil.
Over the next few hours, the mission’s team will be monitoring all radio communications coming from the InSight landing site to make sure that the spacecraft is in good health and ready to start its pioneering mission.
So far, the InSight lander seems to be in good condition. The spacecraft executed a perfect soft landing on the Martian terrain and even managed to snap a photo of its surroundings — which was successfully beamed back to Earth.
“InSight’s view is a flat, smooth expanse called Elysium Planitia, but its workspace is below the surface, where it will study Mars’ deep interior,” NASA tweeted a little while ago.
In the hours before the highly anticipated Mars touchdown, tension was running high at the JPL headquarters as the InSight spacecraft was nearing the big moment — and facing a harrowing entry, descent, and landing (EDL) sequence ominously described as “seven minutes of terror,” as previously reported by the Inquisitr.
The anxiety finally subsided once mission controllers watched the intrepid InSight spacecraft masterfully slow down — from roughly 12,300 miles per hour to 17 miles per hour, and then to a constant five miles per hour — as it entered Mars’ atmosphere and deployed its parachutes.
Once the parachutes were deployed, InSight successfully separated from the heat shield that protected the spacecraft during the fiery plunge into the Martian atmosphere and popped out its three landing legs ahead of touchdown.
As soon as this part of the EDL sequence was completed, InSight turned on its landing radar to “feel up” the Martian ground and get a sense of its landing site — then separated from the backshell that kept it safe during the long spaceflight and started firing its retrorockets to decelerate toward the alien soil.
For NASA, this is the first Mars landing since the space agency successfully deployed the Curiosity rover on the red planet in 2012. Perhaps one of the most impressive achievements about the InSight Mars touchdown is that it was skillfully performed in the span of just seven minutes.
“After a ride like that, everything here is so… peaceful. I think I’m gonna like it here. Can’t wait to feel the sun on my solar panels, my next major milestone later today,” the InSight Twitter account posted minutes ago.
For the next two years, the InSight mission will be studying Mars’ deep interior by deploying a seismometer under the planet’s crust to investigate its tectonics and understand what makes marquakes tick — or, should we say, shake.
NASA is expected to release a news briefing on today’s victorious Mars landing at 5 p.m. EST.