Back in November, NASA reached its next milestone in the mission for Mars when it landed a spacecraft loaded with drilling apparatus on the surface of the Red Planet. The scientists who were present in the control room hooped and hollered in a way that brought back memories of the epic Mercury and Apollo missions of the 60s. The craft had to barrel through a perilous red atmosphere at supersonic speeds before touching down. Then, the team had to wait 8 minutes to receive confirmation of the touchdown as the data had to travel more than 100 million miles to get back to Earth. It took the craft 6 months to get from our planet to Mars.
The spacecraft, named InSight, got to work right away. It started snapping photos of the Mars landscape just 4.5 minutes after touching down. The first image received back at NASA showed the surrounding landscape. The photo was spotted with dirt because the lens cover was still on the camera but it was still pretty easy to see what the area immediately around the lander looked like. It was smooth and sandy, and there appeared to be just one rock in the vicinity.
The landing of InSight marked the 8th time in history that we’ve landed a craft on the Red Planet. The first landing occurred back in 1976 with the Viking probe. InSight is the first landing by NASA since 2012.
InSight cost $1 billion and is a project that has several countries involved. The French have included a special seismometer onboard the craft to measure quakes, should any occur on Mars. Germany outfitted the craft with a special device that is capable of drilling down into the surface of Mars to a depth of 16 feet so that researchers can measure the planet’s internal temperature. All of the tools and teams dedicated to the InSight mission will spend the next several years learning more about the Red Planet than has ever been available before.
Studying the interior makeup of our planetary neighbor will help us toward the ultimate goal of putting a human on the surface of Mars. One thing is for sure—you’re going to see a lot of news about the Red Planet over the next several years!