InSight Touchdown! Newest member of the Martian probe family settles on Mars

Yesterday was another amazing achievement for NASA as their newest Martian lander family member InSight touched down successfully on Mars; the eighth lander on Mars in human history. The trip was a short 300 million miles and took 7 months to get from here to Mars; if you do the maths....that's an average speed of almost 60,000 miles per hour. 

When insight reached the Martian atmosphere it was still traveling at a huge velocity of 12,300 miles per hour...leaving it only six and a half minutes to slow all the way down to a safe 5 mph to land on the surface unharmed. As soon as it touched down, the solar panels were immediately set to deploy to start getting power! 

Image of area in front of the InSight lander after touchdown.
Image of area in front of the InSight lander after touchdown.
Credit: NASA

 

What is InSight?

You may be thinking:

'We've sent probes to Mars before, why send another?'

There's a simple answer: Not all landers and probes are the same. In the case of Mars different probes are sent there which carry different/updated instruments to measure various properties of the planet.....no other lander on Mars has done/will be able to do what InSight will be doing. 

Where does it get its name?

The InSight lander is a handy acronym for NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. The main two-year mission of the lander, as implied by the lander's title, is to investigate and study the deep interior of Mars using seismic studies (studying properties like tectonic plate activity), advanced investigation of the geology of Mars (the different composition of Martian rock layers and formation, including its core) and how heat is transported through the interior layers of the planet. This is all important science if we want to gain an idea of how Mars was formed, what was its history concerning the interior evolution and how they all may relate to the formation of the Earth, Moon and other rocky celestial bodies. All of this may also provide clues concerning the formation of the Solar System going back 4.5 billion years ago.

 

No important data back to Earth for 2-3 months, why? 

Measuring the scientific properties we've described isn't easy! We will have to be patient whilst the primary instruments aboard InSight deploy; one such instrument is a drill that will burrow as much as 16ft into the upper crust (surface) of Mars to measure the heat flowing from inside the planet. Another instrument will be the French-made seismometer designed to detect astoundingly small 'Marsquakes' to a great deal of accuracy. For these instruments to be deployed carefully; without potentially affecting the stability and safety of the lander, the deployment must be done slowly. Even then the data that we wish to receive will take a while to be collected by InSight, so we must all have patience for a while. 

 

InSight before it began its mission to Mars
InSight before it started on its mission from Earth. 

 

 

Joy and celebration at NASA when InSight successfully touched down

Watch this short video below at mission control during the short but quick descent of the Martian lander: