NASA’s InSight explorer has successfully touched down on Mars. The satellite landed on November 26, 2018, after an almost seven-month journey through deep space. This is the eighth time in human history that NASA has executed a successful landing on the red planet and the first in six years.
The landing kicks off a two-year mission for the InSight lander to study Mars’ deep interior. Operated by NASA, the explorer is built by scientists in the United States, France and Germany. It is designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the “inner space” of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core. Studying Mars’ interior structure answers key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars – more than 4 billion years ago, as well as rocky exoplanets. InSight also measures tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars.
InSight was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 5, 2018. It touched down November 26 near Mars’ equator on the western side of a flat, smooth expanse of lava called Elysium Planitia. It will carry out mission objectives on the surface of Mars for a period of two years (one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days) till November 24, 2020. The landing signal was relayed to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, through one of NASA’s two small experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats, which launched on the same rocket as InSight and followed the lander to Mars. They are the first CubeSats sent into deep space. After successfully carrying out a number of communications and in-flight navigation experiments, the twin MarCOs were set in position to receive transmissions during InSight’s entry, descent and landing.