InSight has landed! Inside the dramatic touchdown

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AFTER an nearly seven-month journey from Earth, NASA's Insight spacecraft has successfully landed on Mars!

Flight controllers announced that the spacecraft InSight had reached the surface just before 7am AEDT, after a perilous supersonic descent through the red Martian skies.

A Tense Landing NASA engineers were forced to wait until the landing was over to know whether it was successful, as there's an eight-minute delay in communications between Mars and Earth and the landing only took about seven minutes. Though attempting to land on the surface of Mars is never an easy thing, it seems that InSight's arrival went about as well as could be expected.

"It is wonderful news that the InSight spacecraft has landed safely on Mars", said Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency. NASA's Curiosity rover, which arrived in 2012, is still on the move on Mars. Project manager Tom Hoffman said the spacecraft landed close to the bull's-eye, but NASA did not have yet have the final calculations.

The InSight lander is aiming for a Monday afternoon touchdown on what scientists and engineers hope will be a flat plain.

"He watched the whole thing, he is absolutely ecstatic about our programme, as you're aware he's the chairman of the National Space Council, and he's been a keen advocate of what we do and to have him call within seconds of mission success is incredible". The cubesats, intended primarily as technology demonstrations, were created to provide a realtime relay of telemetry from InSight during landing, without which it would have been hours before controllers knew if the spacecraft had landed successfully.

"Ultimately, the day is coming when we land humans on Mars", Bridenstine said, adding that the goal is to do so by the mid 2030s. "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".

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"Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration", noted InSight's lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt. "It's such a unsafe thing that there's always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong".

An artist's impression shows InSight entering the Martian atmosphere, about 128 kilometres above the surface and just minutes from landing. The NASA team said they were glad to see the dust, as they were hoping for a soft landing site.

InSight has no life-detecting capability, however. NASA's next mission, the Mars 2020 rover, will prowl for rocks that might contain evidence of ancient life.

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).

No lander has dug deeper on Mars than several inches, and no seismometer has ever worked on the planet. The stationary 360-kilogram lander will then use its robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground.

By examining and mapping the interior of Mars, scientists hope to learn why the rocky planets in our solar system turned out so different and why Earth became a haven for life. At about seven miles (11 km) up, InSight deployed its giant parachute to decrease speed as the craft neared the surface.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) provided a self-hammering mole that can burrow 16 feet (five meters) into the surface - further than any instrument before - to measure heat flow. Why, for instance, is Earth tectonically active but Mars isn't?

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