First Images Sent Back From InSight Mars Lander Moments After Touchdown

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The agency's mission, dubbed Mars Cube One (MarCO), will relay data back to Earth as the two tiny spacecraft and the InSight Mars lander make their way to Mars.

The craft will land in the same manner as the Viking spacecraft before it, using the friction of a heat shield and then a parachute to slow down from hypersonic speeds as much as possible with atmospheric drag.

There will not be any live video streaming of Mars Insight's approach on Monday, and signals will be transmitted back to Earth on an eight-minute delay.

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry", said Dr. 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".

The landing is due to take place at noon Pacific time and will be viewable on NASA's website.

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.

This is the first time in six years that NASA has attempted to put one of its devices on Mars, so it's a monumental occasion.

About 45 seconds before InSight lands, the probe will drop out of the shell and ignite its landing rockets. "It takes skill, focus and years of preparation", said associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters Thomas Zurbuchen in a statement.

A rendering of the In Sight streaking through Mars' atmosphere
NASA JPL-CALTECHA rendering of the In Sight streaking through Mars' atmosphere

For now, all we can do is watch and hope it lands safely. It marked the first time a Mars lander has ever been launched from the West Coast.

If all goes according to plan, it will drop onto the equatorial plain called Elysium Planitia at about 5 miles per hour - but scientists won't know if its solar panels will have deployed until about 8:35 p.m. EST, when NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will be in position to relay data to Earth. "Seismology is one of the ways that we really confirmed plate tectonics on the Earth, looking at where all the earthquakes bunch along plate boundaries, and it allowed us to see where the plate boundaries were".

InSight could hand NASA its eighth win.

The broadcast will most likely feature commentators from NASA interspersed with some mock-up landing footage.

It is created to carry out its mission from a stationary position, and it is expected to land and set up shop in an area known as the Elysium Planitia, which JPL officials dubbed "the biggest parking lot on Mars", providing a flat solid surface for the craft to do its work.

This mission's other primary science experiment is the Heat Probe - a "mole" that will dig its way deep under the surface, to give us a look at what the temperature profile inside the planet is like. And Tuesday night, the Mars Odyssey orbiter should confirm that the spacecraft's solar arrays have unfurled.

- The first "beep" from the spacecraft's X-band radio - indicating whether InSight survived the landing - is scheduled for 2001 GMT. So, once the InSight team is ready, they will set the Heat Probe down on the ground, likely after the seismic instrument is in position. Only about 40 percent of the landers and rovers sent to the red planet during the last five decades have ever made it safely down to the surface, and of the global space agencies that have tried, only NASA has succeeded in making a soft landing on Mars.

The scientists will also use the lander's communications equipment to measure the wobble of Mars' axial tilt - information that will shed light on the size and nature of the planet's core.

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