A NASA spacecraft designed to burrow beneath the surface of Mars landed on the planet on the 26th of November, after a six-month, 300 million-mile journey and a six-minute descent through the dusty atmosphere. Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, celebrated the feat as soon as the landing was confirmed. The three-legged InSight spacecraft reached the surface after being slowed by a parachute and braking engines. Updates were coming in via radio signals that take more than eight minutes to cross the nearly 200 million miles between Mars and Earth. It was NASA’s ninth attempt to land at Mars since 1976 Viking probes. NASA last landed on Mars in 2012 with the Curiosity rover. The spectacle was being viewed all throughout the U.S., with screenings being held in New York’s Times Square as well. The plan called for the spacecraft to go from 12,300 mph to zero in six minutes flat as it pierced the Martian atmosphere and landed on the surface. Till date, the success rate at the red planet has only been 40%, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landings by the U.S, Russia and other countries since 1960. The U.S. is the only nation to have eight successful landings on the red planet with only one failure. InSight was shooting for Elysium Planitia, a plain near the Martian equator that the InSight team hopes is as flat as a parking lot In Kansas. This is a no rock-collecting expedition. Instead, the stationary 800-pound lander will use its 6-foot robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground. The self-hammering mole will burrow 16 feet down to measure the planet’s internal heat, while the seismometer listens for possible earthquakes. This will be most novel thing attempted in Mars. By examining the interior, scientists hope to understand how our solar system’s rocky planet formed 4.5 billion years ago and what makes Mars so cold and dry, Venus and Mercury burning flames and earth hospitable for life. InSight, however, has no life-detecting capability. NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analyzed for evidence of ancient life on the red planet.
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