An artist’s conception shows the final descent of the Mars InSight lander. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Illustration)
REDMOND, Wash. — NASA’s Mars InSight lander today touched down on a heavenly Martian plain, marking the first successful landing on the Red Planet in more than six years.
“Touchdown confirmed,” Mission Control declared at NASA’s Jet Propulsion in Pasadena, Calif.
The touchdown came after a nearly seven-month, 300 million-mile interplanetary cruise from Earth, capped by “seven minutes of terror” during which the InSight spacecraft had to slow down from an entry velocity of more than 12,000 mph. The craft’s heat shield helped the lander withstand temperatures as high as 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. To slow down further, the lander had to pop off its aeroshell, deploy its parachute, and then activate its 12 descent thrusters.
Each step along the way was monitored nervously at JPL. with updates delayed by the eight-minute light travel time between Earth and Mars. Mission controllers erupted in joy when the crucial confirmatory signals were received via two nanosatellites that monitored the descent as they flew by.
Applause erupted as well at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility here in Redmond, birthplace of the thruster system that helped the three-legged lander set down ...