Published: Tue, November 27, 2018
Science | By Celia Watts

NASA’s latest Mars craft lands for unprecedented seismic mission

NASA’s latest Mars craft lands for unprecedented seismic mission

Speeding faster than a bullet at 12,300 miles (19,800 kilometers) an hour, the heat-shielded spacecraft encountered scorching friction as it entered the Mars atmosphere.

Cheers and applause erupted at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Monday as a waist-high unmanned lander, called InSight, touched down on Mars, capping a almost seven-year journey from design to launch to landing.

Scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Oxford who created the instruments will be based at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to assist with the study, including selecting the best spot for the robot arm to place the seismometer.

The lander set down right on target in what Nasa described as "the biggest parking lot on Mars" - a boring, featureless plain on the equator whose name, ... The self-hammering mole will burrow 16 feet (5 meters) down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the seismometer listens for possible quakes. The picture was speckled with debris because the dust cover was still on the lander's camera, but the terrain looked smooth and sandy with just one sizable rock visible - pretty much what scientists had hoped for.

The goal is to map the inside of Mars in three dimensions, "so we understand the inside of Mars as well as we have come to understand the outside of Mars", Banerdt told reporters.

"MarCO was there to relay information back from InSight in real time, and we did that extraordinarily well", said Andy Klesh, MarCO chief engineer, at a press conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here November 26 two hours after the InSight landing.

After months in space, the NASA InSight probe has successfully touched down on Mars.

"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".

There have been 44 attempts made to land on Mars; 18 have been successful while 23 have not. Because it won't be roving over the surface, the landing site was an important determination. "It's such a unsafe thing that there's always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong".

Meanwhile, a radio transmitter will send back signals tracking Mars' subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet's core and possibly whether it remains molten. No other country has managed to set and operate a spacecraft on the dusty red surface.

InSight will spend 24 months - about one Martian year - recording seismic and temperature readings to unlock mysteries about how Mars was formed and will help explain the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets of the inner solar system.

The hugely popular InSight Twitter handle shot off the first picture of Mars within moments of touchdown and then this message too: "I feel you, #Mars - and soon I'll know your heart". "The fingerprints of those early processes just aren't here on the Earth".

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

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