"Touchdown Confirmed": The Mars InSight Lander Hits the Red Planet Safely

After a journey that began on May 5, InSight landed on Mars on November 26.

Touchdown confirmed! The Mars InSight Lander’s 205-day journey from Earth is complete.

A little before 3 p.m. on Monday, November 26, 2018, the scientific exploration device made by NASA safely landed on the red planet. The video above shows the emotional moment inside mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Califorrnia, when they received word that InSight handed touched down on Mars.

Watch the Inverse live stream below to learn more about InSight’s incredible story.

NASA referred to Monday’s long-awaited landing of the InSight Lander as its own “seven minutes of terror.”

Before the launch, humanity’s track record for sending probes to Mars (and Phobos) — a dismal 41 percent success rate — is discouraging, but if all goes right today, NASA might just kiss the Martian ground.

Mission Background

When was this project started? What year and by who?

Birthed from NASA’s Discovery program. NASA called for proposals for spaceflight missions in June 2010. Selected from 28 mission proposals, InSight was originally named Geophysical Monitoring Station (GEMS) when first submitted in 2011. Principal investigator William “Bruce” Banerdt of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory heads the mission.

What does InSight stand for?

InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport

What are InSight’s dimensions? Weight?

From the bottom of legs to top of deck, the lander will be between 33 to 43 inches (83 to 108 centimeters) tall. The precise height is unknown due to the compression of its three shock-absorbing legs that will be compressed a still-to-be-determined amount during impact.

This video shows the first image shot by the InSight lander on Mars

Span with solar arrays deployed: 19 feet, 8 inches (6.00 meters);

Width of deck: 5 feet, 1 inch (1.56 meters);

Length of robotic arm: 5 feet, 11 inches (1.8 meters)

What’s the difference between a lander and a rover?

The biggest obvious difference? Rovers move, landers stay in one spot. Once InSight touches down, the fateful spot will be its forever home.

Launch & Landing

Where and when did it launch?

May 5, 2018, at 4:05 a.m. Pacific time, from Vandenberg Air Force Base on an Atlas V-401 as the launch vehicle.

How long is the mission?

728 Earth days, or nearly two years (709 Sols, which is 1 year and 40 sols)

How far has InSight traveled?

301,223,981 miles (484773006 km)

How fast has InSight traveled?

Top speeds of 6,200 mph (9978 kph)

When will InSight land?

Scheduled for 2:50 p.m., November 26, 2018.

How long was the trip?

From launch to landing, 205 days.

Where will it land and why was the site selected?

Elysium Planitia, a flat, smooth plain located just north of the equator (locations close to the equator are optimal for solar arrays). A low number of rocks makes for lower risk landing, and thankfully, there’s not much wind either.

To be precise, InSight will (hopefully) land at 4.5 degrees north latitude, 135.9 degrees east longitude.

Scientists have described it as plain in multiple ways:

“If Elysium Planitia were a salad, it would consist of romaine lettuce and kale - no dressing,” said InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California in a statement released November 5. “If it were an ice cream, it would be vanilla.”

InSight Mission Science

What’s included in InSight’s scientific payload?

Three main instruments make up InSight’s scientific payload.

The first is the dome-shaped Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure. Laid on the surface to study waves, scientists expect to learn about the mantle, crust, and core of the planet from the 38 megabits of data collected per day.

It will also be the first seismometer on surface of Mars. NASA brought seismometer to Mars in Viking missions in 1976 (38 years ago) but they were located on top of landers and were susceptible to wind sway.

“It was a handicapped experiment,” Banerdt says in a statement released on March 28 from JPL. “I joke that we didn’t do seismology on Mars — we did it three feet above Mars.”

Later in the statement, Banerdt unpacks what this properly-placed seismometer will do: “A seismometer is like a camera that takes an image of a planet’s interior. It’s a bit like taking a CT scan of a planet.”

The second main instrument, a Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, will burrow down an unprecedented 16 feet to measure the internal temperature of the planet. From the 350 megabits of data produced from the mission, scientists can compare how much heat is emitting from the red planet.

Finally, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment is a set of antennas located on the top of the rover that measures the lander’s movement over time. Based on how much Mars’ North Pole wobbles as it orbits the sun, scientists can tell whether the core is liquid + what could be inside.

What is a Marsquake and why is NASA obsessed with them?

As you probably guessed, it’s a quake that occurs on Mars. Earthquakes are caused by plate tectonics, but Mars doesn’t seem to have them. So what does cause earthquakes? Scientists interested with marsquakes for their potential to understand Mars’ interior and learn about the formation of rocky planets.

Where is InSight landing compared to previous Mars missions?

InSight - Curiosity current location: As of September 27, 2018, media relations specialist Andrew Good told Inverse 550 km (341 miles). Compared to Curiosity’s landing spot at Gale Crater, InSight’s landing site, Elysium Planitia, is 373 miles (600 kilometers) away, according to NASA.

How much does the project cost?

InSight Mission: $813.8 million, NASA originally capped the mission at $425 million, excluding launch apparatus, in 2016. Lockheed Martin manufactured the lander. NASA invested an additional $18.5 million for the Mars Cube One (MarCO) technology.

How does the cost of InSight compare to previous Mars missions?

  • Opportunity: $400 million
  • Mars 2020 Rover estimate: $2.1 billion, according to Guy Webster, spokesperson for JPL.

## InSight’s CubeSat Followers

What are they?

Mini satellites designed for use in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). They were originally used to teach university students about satellites — since then, university students have designed many. The first ones in orbit launched in June 2003.

CubeSat’s Purpose for Insight?

Radio back to NASA during descent to surface of Mars and improve deep space communication.

What makes these CubeSats special?

InSight’s CubeSats are the first interplanetary ones, first breaking the distance record on May 8, reaching 621,371 miles. Because they use the same compressed gas found in fire extinguishers, the two are nicknamed WALL-E and EVE.

What are NASA’s Previous Mars Missions?

  • Mariner 6 (flyby, 1964)
  • Mariner 8 (flyby, 1971)
  • Mars Observer (orbiter, 1992)
  • Mars Climate Orbiter (orbiter, 1998)
  • Mars Polar Lander (lander/rover, 1999)
  • Deep Space 2 Probes (probe x2, 1999)
  • Mariner 4 (flyby, 1964)
  • Mariner 6 (flyby, 1969)
  • Mariner 7 (flyby, 1969)
  • Mariner 9 (orbiter, 1971) — first spacecraft to orbit another planet!
  • Viking 1 (orbiter/lander, 1975)
  • Viking 2 (orbiter/lander, 1975)
  • Mars Global Surveyor (orbiter, 1996)
  • Mars Pathfinder/Sojourner (rover, 1996)
  • Mars Odyssey (orbiter, 2001)
  • Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit (rover, 2003)
  • Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity (rover, 2003)
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (orbiter, 2005)
  • Phoenix Mars Lander (lander, 2007)
  • Mars Science Laboratory, aka Curiosity (lander/rover, 2011)
  • Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, aka MAVEN (orbiter, 2013)

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