NASA's InSight probe has landed on Mars

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For the first time in six years, a new mission is about to land on Mars.

InSight, a $1 billion worldwide project, includes a German mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure Mars' internal heat. That signal came from an antenna on board, but additional data on the landing was recorded by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and two CubeSats in orbit as part of the Mars Cube One mission.

"Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration", InSight's lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt, said before Monday's success.

Congratulations flooded into the space agency following the success, including from Mike Pence, the United States vice president, who celebrated the "incredible milestone" of the country's eighth successful landing on Mars.

During its descent towards the martian surface, the probe first entered Mars' atmosphere 80 miles (129 km) above the surface.

According to mission controllers here at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, InSight's entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase was completed without a hitch and the $850 million lander touched down shortly after 2:50 P.M., Eastern time.

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It was Nasa's - indeed, humanity's - eighth successful landing at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in six years.

A Tense Landing NASA engineers were forced to wait until the landing was over to know whether it was successful, as there's an eight-minute delay in communications between Mars and Earth and the landing only took about seven minutes. Less than a minute later, InSight's 12 retrorockets fired, providing the probe with an additional braking force, and allowing it to settle neatly onto the planet's surface. Too shallow and InSight would have bounced off and tumbled into deep space.

Slowed by friction, deployment of a supersonic parachute and the firing of retro rockets, InSight descended 123km through pink skies to the surface in 6.5 minutes. "This is what we really hoped and imagined in our mind's eye", he added. "This image is really our farewell to InSight, our wish for good luck and our farewell to Mars itself". Another will use the planet's poles to study its core, and one will hunt for "Marsquakes". The team was extremely happy with the landing, as you can see in the tweet below. That's important as NASA prepares to deploy InSight's solar panels later today. "We also have orbital assets [such as NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter] that can then show us exactly where that impact was, because we are constantly mapping the surface".

InSight will be landing at Elysium Planitia, called "the biggest parking lot on Mars" by astronomers. The mission is expected to last about two Earth years. NASA will also monitor radio pulses from InSight as a way to track Mars' rotation and wobble, which could help us understand its internal structure.

No lander has dug deeper on Mars than several inches, and no seismometer has ever worked on the planet.

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