NASA's InSight spacecraft, the first robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of the Red Planet, touched down safely on the surface of Mars on Monday with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings. "Touchdown confirmed," a mission control operator at NASA said.
Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles burst into cheers, applause and hugs as they received signals confirming InSight's arrival on Martian soil - a vast, barren plain near the planet's equator - shortly before 1 am IST.
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The high-drama landing of the waist-high spacecraft capped a nearly seven-year journey, from spacecraft design, to launch to eventual touchdown, marking the eighth successful landing on Mars in NASA history.
InSight contains key instruments that were contributed by several European space agencies.
France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) made the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, the key element for sensing quakes.
The German Aerospace Center (DLR) provided a self-hammering mole that can burrow 16 feet (five meters) into the surface -- further than any instrument before -- to measure heat flow.
Spain's Centro de Astrobiologia made the spacecraft's wind sensors.
Together, these instruments will study geological processes, said Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
InSight, the first mission to study the deep interior of Mars, blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5, 2018.
"InSight is going to Mars to study the deep interior of Mars to understand how the land is formed," Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator, told a press briefing on Wednesday.
"Each planet is different. Mercury has a sun-baked surface. Mars is pretty cold today. Earth is a nice place to take a vacation. We really like to know why one planet goes one way, and another planet goes another way," he said.
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Unlike the Curiosity rover, Insight won’t be able to move about on Mars. But using a suite of instruments and a seven-foot-long robotic arm, it will drill up to 16 feet below the surface at its landing site, Elysium Planitia, a broad plain that has been called “the biggest parking lot on Mars.”