InSight Has Landed! Inside the Dramatic Touchdown

By Chelsea Gohd | November 26, 2018 2:08 pm
InSight mars photo

InSight’s first photo from the martian surface. (Credit: NASA)

Touchdown on Mars

NASA’s InSight lander has endured almost seven months in space, traveling over 300 million miles in a strange but carefully calculated path from Earth to Mars. After it’s lengthy journey, the probe has finally and successfully touched down on the martian surface.

The InSight probe launched May 5 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast. With a host of scientific instruments on board, the lander will study the Red Planet’s interior, gathering groundbreaking data about Mars’ composition and how tectonically active the planet is.

At 2:54 EST, InSight — which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — landed on Mars. In its descent towards the martian surface, the probe first entered Mars’ atmosphere, 80 miles above the surface. At about seven miles up, InSight then deployed a giant parachute to help to decrease speed as the craft neared the surface. 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.

A Tense Landing

NASA engineers were forced to wait until the landing was over to know if it was successful, though, as there’s an eight minute delay in communications between Mars and Earth, and the landing only took about seven minutes. So, from when the craft entered Mars atmosphere until touchdown, JPL engineers anxiously crossed their fingers, not knowing the status of the craft. For these seven long minutes, dubbed the “seven minutes of terror,” the engineers waited to confirm if the probe landed safely which, thankfully, it did. “It was intense, and you could feel the emotion,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in the NASA landing Livestream about the landing success. This tension quickly turned to excitement once InSight landed, however.”The enthusiasm here is incredible,” Bridenstine said.

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. Two of these spacecraft,  known as Mars Cube Ones, or MarCOs, will work to hopefully transmit an image from InSight of the martian surface immediately after landing. Additionally, the mission team is hoping to have more images approximately five hours from now.

Settling In

InSight’s first few moments and hours on the Red Planet won’t be as eventful as the probe’s nerve-wracking descent and landing. In fact, it will be two to three months before InSight’s robotic arm even sets its instruments on the martian surface, according to a NASA statement.

“It’s taken more than a decade to bring InSight from a concept to a spacecraft approaching Mars — and even longer since I was first inspired to try to undertake this kind of mission. But even after landing, we’ll need to be patient for the science to begin,” Bruce Banerdt of JPL, InSight’s principal investigator, said, according to the NASA statement.

But, while researchers will have to wait patiently for scientific data, InSight will still be able to capture valuable information soon after landing. Before its scientific instruments can deploy, InSight will photograph and survey the terrain and environment surrounding it. This will allow NASA engineers to monitor Elysium Planitia, InSight’s “perfect,” “vanilla” landing site.

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  • OWilson

    A “perfect” landing site would be in the vicinity of the water that they tell us is extant on Mars.

    That would help answer the Big Question! :)

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    • Mike Richardson

      It would be perfect, if the lander in question actually was designed to search for water. As the articles here have explained, it was not, and its instruments are specifically designed for seismology and other geological surveillance.

      And this, folks, is why reading comprehension is an important skill which should be practiced throughout life, so that we can continue to learn new things. :)

      • OWilson

        Hellow…. Newmann! :)

        There is one Big Question about Mars (look it up).

        I’m anxiously waiting, after 50 years or so, of NASA circa 1970 Radio Shack remote toys piling up dead on Mars, to resolve that Big Question!

        That’s the ‘new thing’ I and the world are eager to learn!

        Ah, well, perhaps it will take an amateur private enterprise before we will learn if, when and where is the water on Mars! :)

        • Mike Richardson

          Well, Oldmann, I’m sure if they’d just listen to you NASA would have answered that great question long ago. I mean what do rocket scientists and Ph.D.s in physics and planetary sciences have on your towering intellect, right? 😏

          So what’s keeping you from showing them how it’s done, and writing up a proposal for a mission? Designing a better space probe/rover than “Radio Shack” tech just aimlessly wandering around taking pretty pictures, right? Impress us all, Wilson, and help those poor hapless NASA folks accomplish something as impressive as you no doubt consider your own life accomplishments. LOL!

          • OWilson

            See “The politics behind choosing a Mars 2020 landing site” – Astronomy Magazine

            “The four landing sites debated…… were the culmination of years of scientific study and arguments. The advocates for each potential site are sure that theirs is the best option for revealing biosignatures.

            “To the outsider, the whole workshop may have seemed antagonistic at times, but the participants didn’t see it that way. “The intense-seeming discussion comes from a place of excitement,” said Tim Goudge, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas-Austin. “It’s a sign of a healthy scientific community.”

            “Wherever NASA picks, everyone will fall in line because they want to be a part of it.”

            NASA says, “Several workshops took place in 2013, 2014 and 2015, to evaluate 22 candidate landing ellipses and then four finalists”.

            Bottom line: The scientists who preferred my “biosignature revealing locations”, (namely the existence of past or present liquid water) were outvoted in favour of “planet formation and composition revealing locations”.

            They say differering views are “a sign of a healthy scientific community”.

            And as they keep lecturing us in these blogs, ad nauseum, citizens need to be more involved in science, through Citizen Science!

            My invited contribution here is merely a comment!

            Get it? :)

          • Mike Richardson

            But your comment about landing this particular probe close to a site to look for water still remains ridiculous on its face. No amount of backpedaling or verbiage on your tangential opinions makes the initial comment any less ignorant. It’s a decent effort to try to make your dwindling posts seem relevant, though. I get it. :)

          • OWilson

            Lol!

            “dwindling posts”?

            I post enough to keep you in business, obviously!

            Have a nice day, Mikey!

          • Mike Richardson

            Wow, you’re the quite the narcissist if you think you’re the main reason I post. But that’s nothing new for you, right? I like science, and posting on these blogs, but I don’t see the need to post something critical of research I might not consider a priority, as you apparently do. One never knows where new discoveries might lead, so it’s rather ignorant and arrogant to criticize scientific research that doesn’t fit your political agenda, or refer to those researchers as “your gods.”. Unlike you, they’ve earned respect through their efforts to add to human knowledge . That doesn’t make them gods — just better than you. :)

          • OWilson

            Have a nice day, Mikey!

          • Mike Richardson

            Always do! 😁

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