NASA spacecraft lands on red planet after six-month journey

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Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had just a small window of time available they nicknamed "seven minutes of terror", in which they had to slow InSight from 12,000 miles per hour to just five miles per hour. In its descent towards the martian surface, the probe first entered Mars' atmosphere, 80 miles above the surface.

The two experimental satellites not only relayed the good news in nearly real time, they sent back InSight's first snapshot of Mars just 4½ minutes after landing.

Members of the mission control team burst into applause and cheered in relief as they received data showing that the spacecraft had survived.

The twin "Cubesats" tagging along for the flight to Mars represented the first deep-space use of a miniature satellite technology that space engineers see as a promising low-priced alternative to some larger, more complex vehicles.

"To look deep into Mars, the lander must be at a place where it can stay still and quiet for its entire mission".

REUTERS/Mike BlakeHow did NASA's InSight spacecraft land on Mars?

NASA reports that InSight's automated landing sequence performed perfectly and the probe is conducting systems checks in preparation for science operations.

A quick photo sent from Mars' surface was marred by specks of debris on the camera cover but showed a flat surface with few if any rocks - just what scientists were hoping for. NASA wanted to wait 16 minutes for the dust to settle before attempting that; it was awaiting word Monday night on how that went.

NASA hopes to use InSight to learn about how rocky planets like Earth and Mars formed.

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Nasa's Insight spacecraft is about to reach the most unsafe part of its journey from Earth to Mars.

Only when these immediate concerns are taken care of can Nasa begin to think about InSight's scientific mission. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment.

Catherine Johnson and her team have spent five years preparing for the Mars mission. Because it won't be roving over the surface, the landing site was an important determination. By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will address fundamental questions about the formation of Earth-like planets by detecting the fingerprints of those processes buried deep within the interior of Mars, the space agency says.

Indeed, by the time word of touchdown came from space just after 3 p.m. EST, InSight was already well settled on the western side of Elysium Planitia, the flat-as-a-parking-lot plain that NASA was aiming for. Now that scientist have a pretty solid idea of what's happening on top of the planet, attention has turned to inside and this probe will help give NASA the chance to explore how the planet is made up, from the core outwards.

InSight's first photo from the martian surface.

"Landing was thrilling, but I'm looking forward to the drilling", Banerdt said.

InSight wasn't out of the woods yet: NASA awaited word Monday night on whether the spacecraft's vital solar panels successfully unfolded. First images appear to confirm this has been achieved.

"Every Mars landing is daunting, but now with InSight safely on the surface, we get to do a unique kind of science on Mars", JPL director Michael Watkins said.