NASA's latest Mars craft lands for unprecedented seismic mission

NASA's latest Mars craft lands for unprecedented seismic mission

NASA scientists are nervously waiting to see if a spacecraft that spent the past six months travelling nearly 500 million kilometres to Mars will survive its perilous descent and land softly Monday on the Red Planet.

The 880-pound (360 kg) InSight - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st US-launched Mars mission, dating back to the Mariner fly-bys of the 1960s.

The Mars InSight lander has just touched down on the surface of the Red Planet at 11:54 a.m. PST (2:54 p.m. EST).

"Touchdown confirmed", announced Christine Szalai, a systems engineer at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, from where the mission is led.

The vehicle appeared to be in good shape, according to the first communications received from the Martian surface.

The first image has already been beamed down Earth by the lander.

Broadcasted live all over the world, the landing has captured the attention of millions, especially because this is the first such achievement in six years.

It's aiming for flat red plains, hopefully low on rocks.

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Philippe Lognonne, the principal investigator on the SEIS, said he was "relieved and very happy" that the probe had landed intact and online. "Can't wait to feel the Sun on my solar panels, my next major milestone later today", NASA InSight tweeted.

Now, after years of development, and months of tracking their charge through space, it was finally safe on the surface of Mars, ready to proceed with its groundbreaking science.

A post-launch press conference is planned for 2200 GMT. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. The successful landing is a feat of engineering and space savvy, as only about 40 percent of missions that have been sent to Mars (by any space agency) have met with success.

"We never take Mars for granted".

NASA has increasingly shown an interest in using cubesats and other small satellites for a variety of science missions, initially in Earth science and heliophysics but now also astrophysics and planetary science. The robot will begin collecting data within the first week of its landing, and NASA will aim to deploy InSight's key instruments onto the Martian ground for assistance within two to three months.

Speeding faster than a bullet at 12,300 miles (19,800 kilometers) an hour, the heat-shielded spacecraft encountered scorching friction as it entered the Mars atmosphere.

InSight, part of a $1 billion global mission, features a German-led mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet to measure the planet's internal heat.

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