NASA's InSight lander successfully reaches Mars

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Key to InSight's continued survival on the harsh surface of Mars is the deployment of its solar panels, which were stowed for the descent. It launched May 5. Too shallow and InSight would have bounced off and tumbled into deep space. MarCO shared data about InSight when it entered the Martian atmosphere for the landing. "This was an incredible, fantastic day", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbor as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system".

The InSight Mars lander has successfully unfurled its two fan-like solar arrays, allowing the robot to generate the power it will need to study the Martian interior for the next two years, NASA officials said late Monday (Nov. 26). The landing itself is a tricky maneuver.

The journey to Mars has been described by NASA engineers as "seven minutes of terror", as more landers have failed than have succeeded.

"The main goal of InSight is to understand what the fundamental makeup is of Mars, as in how large the core is, how large the mantle is and how large the crust is", says Tom Hoffman, project manager for InSight at JPL.

However, it is notoriously hard to touch down on Mars.

Congratulations flooded into the space agency following the success, including from Mike Pence, the U.S. vice president, who celebrated the "incredible milestone" of the country's eighth successful landing on Mars.

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They checked and double-checked InSight's trajectory, aiming it toward a 6-by-15-mile keyhole in the Martian atmosphere that would guide the vehicle toward a carefully chosen landing spot on the ruddy surface.

The three-legged InSight probe, catapulted thanks to a US$1 billion worldwide venture, was created to burrow beneath the surface of the red planet after the journey.

Settling In InSight's first few days on the Red Planet won't be as eventful as the probe's nerve-wracking descent and landing.

At 2:47 pm ET, the entry, descent and landing phase is set to begin, and InSight will come blazing into the atmosphere at 12,300 miles per hour. InSight followed up its brief hello with an image of the landing site. It will slow down until it reaches a consistent 5 miles per hour. Then, it touched down at 2:54 p.m. ET.

The 880-pound (360 kg) InSight - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st USA -launched Mars mission, dating back to the Mariner fly-bys of the 1960s. It will take about three months for the team to perform all the necessary tests and begin to deploy the instruments that InSight carried to Mars. The team was extremely happy with the landing, as you can see in the tweet below. But just moments after landing-plus the eight minutes and seven seconds it takes for a radio signal to travel from Mars to Earth-the InSight spacecraft beamed home its first image from the Martian surface. NASA's Odyssey probe, orbiting Mars, will be used later today to check that's the case.

The probe landed safely on a flat plain known as Elysium Planitia, close to the Red Planet's equator. It might also determine whether there's some subsurface liquid freezing and melting, said Harrison.