"It was amazing," said one woman, wiping her eyes and taking his colleague's hand. A few minutes later a red and brown picture appeared on the main screen of the control room-the first photograph of Insight from his new home.
"Immaculate," declared JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning.
"That's what we really hoped and imagined," he said. "Sometimes things work out for you."
A pair of mini-satellites trailed Insight since May in Mayow provides almost real-time updates of the super-descent of the probe through the reddish sky. The satellite also shot back a quick image from the surface of Mars.
The image was damaged by debris stains on the camera cover. But the quick glance at the Vista showed a flat surface with few, if any, rocks just what the scientists had hoped for. Better pictures will arrive in the following hours and days.
"This thing has a lot more to do," said entry engineer, engineer drop engineer Rob Gruber. "But just getting to the surface of Mars is not quite an achievement."
The endless phase from the moment a spacecraft strikes the Martian atmosphere to the second that it touches the rusty surface of the red planet is what scientists call "seven minutes of terror."
Landing a spaceship on Mars is as hard as it sounds. More than half of all tasks do not make it safely to the surface. Because it takes more than seven minutes for light signals to travel 100 million miles to Earth, scientists have no control over the process. All they can do is program the spacecraft with their best technology and wait.
Earlier, project manager Tim Hopin said the success of the landing would not be clear for several hours.
"We will definitely have a celebration when we get landed successfully but we are going to have to merge it just a little while we wait about five and a half hours to know for sure that we are in good shape," he said.
InSight will spend 24 months – about one year Mars – using seismic monitoring and temperature readings underground to unlock mysteries about how Mars was formed, and by doing so, the sources of the earth and other rock stars of the inner solar system.
While Earth's tectonics and other forces have erased most of the evidence of early history, most of Mars – about a third of the Earth's size – believe it remains largely static, creating a geological time machine for scientists.
This is NASA's first landing in March in six years.
More to come
AAP, Washington Post