U.S. spacecraft successfully touches down on Mars

This illustration shows NASA's In Sight lander about to touch down on the surface of Mars

InSight's successful landing after a almost seventh-month journey is hugely significant for Mars scientists, who now have a tool to probe deeper into the planet than ever before.

With only one failed touchdown, it's an enviable record.

NASA went with its old, straightforward approach this time, using a parachute and braking engines to get InSight's speed from 12,300 mph when it pierced the Martian atmosphere, about 77 miles up, to 5 mph at touchdown. No other country has managed to set and operate a spacecraft on the dusty red surface. A few minutes later, InSight sent the official "beep" to NASA to signal that it was alive and well, including a photo of the Martian surface where it landed.

NASA is the only space agency to have made it, and is invested in these robotic missions as a way to prepare for the first Mars-bound human explorers in the 2030s.

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry", said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Mars once had flowing rivers and lakes, but the deltas and lakebeds are now dry.

Once on Mars, InSight will drill into the ground with a probe to offer mankind a first-ever look inside the Red Planet.

Only 40% of missions sent to the Red Planet by any agency have been successful.

If Insight lives through the perilous descent and lands in one piece, it will mean a small corner of an alien planet will be forever British. "With that, we're actually doing atmospheric science as we're passing by Mars, and we'll be digging through that data as well", Klesh said.

The stationary probe, launched in May from California, has paused for 16 minutes for the dust to settle, literally, around its landing site, and will unfurl its disc-shaped solar panels like wings to provide power to the spacecraft. With this safe landing, I'm here.

If the instrument establishes that Mars has the remains of a liquid core it will suggest the planet once had a magnetic field that could have shielded early life - before dramatically and mysteriously weakening.

Mars and Earth are both rocky planets that seem to have had water in their history, but have evolved to become vastly different. The seismic waves marsquakes produce will be used by InSight to create a 3-D picture of Mars's interior-but they can also be used to study meteorites thudding into the surface.

The experiments will also help us understand if Mars is volcanically active. "We had one more gift that we could give", Klesh said to applause from the audience in the press conference auditorium as he revealed the image.



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