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NASA’s InSight spacecraft lands on Mars after six-month voyage

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After seven months of travelling through space, the NASA InSight mission has landed on Mars.

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.

InSight, or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is going to explore a part of Mars that we know the least about: its deep interior. It launched on May 5.

InSight will spend two years investigating the interior where the building blocks below the planet’s surface that recorded its history.

In a tweet immediately following its landing, InSight sent the following haunting words from the Red Planet: “I feel you Mars … and soon I’ll know your heart. With this safe landing, I’m here. I’m home.”

To reach Mars, InSight cruised 548 million km, while being followed by two cube satellites.

Jubilation at NASA after InSight touches down on Mars. (AP)

The suitcase-size spacecraft, called MarCO, are the first cube satellites to fly into deep space. MarCO will try to share data about InSight when it enters the Martian atmosphere for the landing.

“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.

“Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbor as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system.”

US Vice-President Mike Pence told NASA he was “absolutely ecstatic” at the InSight touch-down.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Pence called him moments after landing congratulate the space agency.

“To have him call within seconds of mission success is incredible,” Bridenstine said.

Pence has taken up the space exploration mantle for the Trump administration.

THE LANDING

InSight robotically guided itself through the landing, outside of a few last minute tweaks by the entry, descent and landing team to the algorithm that guides the lander to the surface.

The landing itself is a tricky maneuver. NASA engineers don’t call it “seven minutes of terror” for nothing. In less time than it takes to hard-boil an egg, InSight slowed from 20,000 km/h before it gently landed on the surface of Mars, according to NASA.

“While most of the country was enjoying Thanksgiving with their family and friends, the InSight team was busy making the final preparations for Monday’s landing,” said Tom Hoffman of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who is InSight’s project manager.

“Landing on Mars is difficult and takes a lot of personal sacrifices, such as missing the traditional Thanksgiving, but making InSight successful is well worth the extraordinary effort.”

Only 40 percent of missions sent to the Red Planet by any agency have been successful. Part of this is due to the thin Martian atmosphere, which is only 1% of Earth’s, so there’s nothing to slow down something trying to land on the surface.

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