A NASA spacecraft, designed to dig beneath the surface of Mars, landed on the Red Planet on Monday after a six-month journey, 482 million miles, and a dangerous six-minute descent into the atmosphere of the hill.
Flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California jumped up and burst into screams, applause, and laughter when news came that the three-foot Insite landed on the Red Planet.
"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 took a quick snapshot of the surface of Mars.
The image was damaged by debris stains on the camera cover. But a quick glance at the Vista showed a flat, sandy surface with few, if any, rocks just what the scientists had hoped for. Better pictures will arrive in the following hours and days.
"What a relief," Manning said. "It's really fantastic." He added: "It never gets old."
The InSight spacecraft has reached the surface after going from 19,800 mph to zero in six minutes flat, using a brake engine chute to slow down.The radio signals confirming the landing took more than eight minutes to cross the nearly 160 million km between Mars and Earth.
It was NASA's ninth attempt to land on Mars since Viking tests in 1976. All of the previous US responses, except for one, have been successfully carried out.
NASA recently landed on Mars in 2012 with the curiosity rider.
Throughout North America, live shows were held in museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as at Times Square in New York.
"Landing on Mars is one of the toughest single jobs people need to do in planetary exploration," said Bruce Barnard, Insight's chief scientist. "It's such a difficult thing, it's so dangerous, there's always a great chance that something can go wrong."
Mars has been a cemetery for a plethora of space missions. So far, the red star's success rate has been only 40 percent, counting every attempt to fly, orbital flight landing by the US, Russia and other countries since 1960.
The United States, on the other hand, has attracted seven successful Mars landings over the last four decades, without counting InSight, and only one has failed.
No other country was able to operate and operate a spacecraft on the dusty red surface.
InSight shot for Elysium Planitia, just near the Mars equator that the InSight team hopes is flat as a parking lot in Kansas with some, if any, rocks.
This is not a collection of stones. Instead, a stationary 360-pound lander would use the 1.8-meter-meter robot to place a mechanical mole and a seismometer on the ground.
The self-neutral gravel will dig five meters to measure the inner heat of the planet, while the Seismaster listens to possible vibrations.
But only to get those instruments in place will take several months, as NASA scientists will first have to assess the health of the probe and the area where it landed.
This has not been studied in the past on Mars, a planet 160 million kilometers from Earth.
No lander had dug deeper than a few inches, and no seismometer had worked on Mars.
By examining the interior of Mars, scientists hope to understand how our planets and rocky planets were formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they turned out so different – Mars cold and dry, Venus Mercury burning hot, earth hospitable to life.
"We are trying to come back in time to the first stages of the planet," said Bannardt. "The fingerprints of these early processes are simply not here on Earth."
InSight does not have a life detection capability, however. It will remain for future riders. NASA's Mars 2020 mission, for example, will collect rocks eventually imported into Earth and analyzed for evidence of ancient life.