LOS ANGELES (Xinhua) – NASA’s InSight spacecraft touched down safely on Mars on Monday, kicking off its two-year mission as the first spacecraft designed to explore the deep interior of another world.
Launched on May 5, InSight marks NASA’s first landing on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012 and the first dedicated to studying the deep interior of the red planet.
NASA’s online live broadcast reported InSight touched down on Mars at approximately 2:54 p.m. EST (1954 GMT) on Monday, after a six-month, 300-million-mile (480-million-km) journey.
The lander plunged through the thin Martian atmosphere at about 2:47 p.m. EST (1947 GMT), heatshield first, and used a supersonic parachute to slow down. Then, it fired its retro rockets to slowly descend to the surface of Mars, and landed on the smooth plains of Elysium Planitia.
The landing took just under seven minutes to complete, prompting the nickname “seven minutes of terror.”
InSight is being followed to Mars by two mini-spacecraft comprising NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCO), the first deep-space mission for CubeSats which attempt to relay data from InSight as it enters the planet’s atmosphere and lands.
At about 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT), MarCO sent back the first picture of Mars.
The photo is speckled with black dots – probably particles of dust picked up during InSight’s harrowing descent through the Martian atmosphere, said Rob Manning, chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
InSight will detect geophysical signals deep below the Martian surface, including marsquakes and heat. Scientists will also be able to track radio signals from the stationary spacecraft, which vary based on the wobble in Mars’ rotation, according to NASA.
It took the InSight team about four to five years to design and execute the mission, said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman.