NASA’s InSight spacecraft landed Monday on Mars – setting its sights on a new journey – exploring deeper into the planet.
The spacecraft landed just before 3 p.m. E.T. InSight, otherwise known as Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will be the first mission to drill into the interior of Mars, as well as investigate whether there is seismic activity, or “Marsquakes,” on the planet.
“It was tense, you could feel the emotion. It was celebratory with every new information we received,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine on a livestream. He said he received a call from a number that was “all zeros” after the landing.
It turned out to be Vice President Pence.
“He watched the whole thing. He is absolutely ecstatic about our program,” Bridenstine said. “He wants me to say congratulations to everyone here at NASA and all of our international partners.”
Pence chairs the National Space Council and has promoted President Donald Trump’s “Space Force” – the newest branch of the U.S. Military.
NASA engineers and scientists were seen clapping, hugging, and cheering after the landing at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.
“Flawless. This is what we hoped and imagined in our minds’ eye. It looked like it was a very successful and perfect landing,” said Rob Manning, JPL’s chief engineer, minutes after the landing.
“The vehicle is nominal. It’s happy. The lander is not complaining. We had a way to tell us if it was unhappy, and it wasn’t,” Manning said, adding, “It’s a normal mode.”
The spacecraft will open its solar panels after it waits roughly four hours for dust to clear. Experts in Pasadena braced for any possible scenario.
“We’ve studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. “Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbor as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system.”
InSight is the first American spacecraft to visit Mars since 2012.
NASA scientists took nothing for granted, monitoring and adjusting InSight’s path until the final minute.
“It’s taken more than a decade to bring InSight from a concept to a spacecraft approaching Mars — and even longer since I was first inspired to try to undertake this kind of mission,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator said. “But even after landing, we’ll need to be patient for the science to begin.”