Cheers as $993m Mars InSight spacecraft lands on Red Planet

NASAs In Sight spacecraft lands Mars

Touchdown: NASA's InSight Lands on Mars (VIDEO)

The US space agency's robotic lander is on a mission to find out how warm and geologically active the planet is.

The suspenseful landing, which followed what engineers described as "seven minutes of terror" as the robot rapidly decelerated from 12,300 to 5 miles per hour, is NASA's first such landing attempt on the Red Planet in six years.

Monday afternoon's touchdown was preceded by a series of complicated maneuvers as InSight made its way through Mars' atmosphere.

The InSight mission team waited and "watched" for the probe's landing by monitoring InSight's radio signals with radio telescopes on Earth and a variety of spacecraft, according to a NASA statement. Less than a minute later, InSight's 12 retrorockets fired, providing the probe with an additional braking force, and allowing it to settle neatly onto the planet's surface.

The craft had a "perfect" landing following its journey to the red planet and is reported to be "working perfectly". Now that scientist have a pretty solid idea of what's happening on top of the planet, attention has turned to inside and this probe will help give NASA the chance to explore how the planet is made up, from the core outwards. When InSight collided with Mars' upper atmosphere, it was moving at speeds greater than 12,000 miles per hour. "Mars is hard", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for the science mission directorate, said on Sunday. "But even after landing, we'll need to be patient for the science to begin". Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment. "We also have orbital assets [such as NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter] that can then show us exactly where that impact was, because we are constantly mapping the surface".

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InSight will be landing at Elysium Planitia, called "the biggest parking lot on Mars" by astronomers.

While the lander's solar panels will be deployed shortly after landing, it will take two to three months for InSight's robotic arm to safely deploy its full slate of instruments, including a seismometer and heat-flow probe. Speaking of beneath the surface, InSight will also dig 5 meters down to measure the planet's temperature. It's along the Martian equator, bright and warm enough to power the lander's solar array year-round.

InSight is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

"It really depends on how benevolent Mars is feeling, how many marsquakes it throws at us", Banerdt said Sunday.

Mars InSight's goal is to listen for quakes and tremors as a way to unveil the Red Planet's inner mysteries, how it formed billions of years ago and, by extension, how other rocky planets like Earth took shape.

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