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26 Nov, 2018 14:25

Mars InSight mission touches down on Red Planet – here’s what you need to know

Mars InSight mission touches down on Red Planet – here’s what you need to know

The first NASA spacecraft in six years to visit Mars has completed the difficult and nerve-wracking initial stage of its mission. So what should you know about the InSight robotic lander, dubbed ‘the mole’?

NASA has not landed a craft on Mars since the Curiosity Rover, the plucky aluminum-wheeled probe that has been investigating since 2012 whether life ever existed on the barren planet.

That changes with the InSight mission. NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander dropped through the Martian atmosphere and onto the surface on Monday.

"This was a perfect case secenario," a flight controller at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, California, could be heard saying on the direct telecast of the landing. The vehicle has already transmitted the first photo of the Martian surface, showing black dust spots on a grainy red background.

What do we know about the InSight robot, which is armed to the teeth with scientific instruments?

The journey so far


Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the exploratory droid began its mission way back on May 5. Since then, the lander has been making its way patiently towards its drop zone on the plains of Mars’ Elysium Planitia.

The area is thought to be the location where InSight will have the best chance of collecting shock-wave and heat-pattern data on the planet.

What are the ‘seven minutes of terror’?


There’s been a lot of talk regarding ‘seven minutes of terror’ when reporting on InSight.

The term refers to the amount of time the lander will take to go from the edge of Mars’ atmosphere to the planet floor.

The terror? Well, as NASA engineers have explained, when it comes to Mars landings they often need everything to be in perfect sequence during that tiny timeframe for things to go right. Hence the fear of a mistake or mishap.

The Mars remit

The InSight lander is different from the Curiosity Rover in that it will focus largely on the “deep interior” of Mars, according to NASA. This means the lander will not be expected to scour the surface of the Red Planet but rather take measurements of what is happening underground and towards the alien world’s center.

Tech spec


Onboard the vessel are a number of intricate instruments that NASA hopes will help uncover answers to Mars mysteries. Among them is a seismograph to discover any presence of earthquakes, tectonic movement or volcanism.

The craft is also equipped with a grappling arm, wind sensors, and a RISE antenna, a device developed to detect subtle wobbles closer to Mars’ core. Perhaps one of the most interesting pieces of kit that InSight will call upon, however, is its Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe.

The device is due to burrow about 16 feet underground like a mole to collect heat samples and determine whether the planet has any formative characteristics similar to Earth.

Watch the excitement unfold

If you want to watch the mission as it unfolds, NASA will broadcast live proceedings on its website here. It’s also taking over New York with the landing set to be shown on big screens in Times Square.

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