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NASA wowed with Mars landing, but InSight's just getting started

20th insight-briefing

InSight will spend the next few months setting up its science lab on Mars.


Two days after landing on Mars, the NASA InSight lander is powered up, it's solar arrays are working and it's already sending back selfies.

NASA pulled off its eighth landing of a spacecraft on the surface of the Red Planet as the world watched on Monday, but had to wait hours to learn if its power system was functioning.

"The InSight team can be a little easier … now that we know the spacecraft solar arrays are deployed and recharging the batteries," Tom Hoffman, InSight's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

But flipping the switch is just the beginning.

The first sight of the lander did after its hot and harrowing dusty but still remarkable photo, then Delivering a clear image of its landing site and the beginning is to unfurl its solar arrays.

The solar arrays will be critical to ensure that they carry out their mission to explore the interior of Mars, listen for "Marsquakes" and figure out how many meteorites batter the Red Planet.

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"With the arrays of providing the energy, we need to start the cool science operations, we are well on our way to thoroughly. What's inside of Mars for the very first time," Hoffman said following the landing.

The mission team will now go over a checklist to make sure the lander, its on-board robotic arm and all its science instruments are in good health. The dust covers will come off its two cameras, clearing up the gritty view seen in the first photo and for a detailed survey of red ground that is the best place to set down the instruments.

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Next, the robotic arm will position InSight's seismometer, called SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure), and put wind and thermal shield on top of it. With SEIS in place, next up will be the probes and "moles" that will be deep as 16 feet (4.9 meters) into the planet to measure the internal temperature and to study Mars' guts.

Elizabeth Barrett, who heads InSight's instrument operations, told reporters Monday that the process of setting the instruments on the ground will take two to three months, followed by another month of drilling and beginning to get science data back.

When it all comes together, the science portion of the mission could begin in March 2019.

"Landing was thrilling, but I'm looking forward to the drilling," InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt said in a statement.

Once InSight's instruments are set up, they can return data for quite some time.

"We should listen to Marsquakes for at least two years, and we hope considerably longer," Tom Pike of Imperial College London, who was part of the team that designed the seismometer, said in a statement.

Banerdt says the broader goal of insight is to better understand just Mars, but Earth and other planets. While evidence of early years after Earth's formation has been processed like weather and plate tectonics, they seem to be less active on Mars.

"On Mars, all those things that were formed [early] "are still frozen in place," said said during Monday's press conference.

Unlike its rover cousins, InSight will be stuck in place, but it stands to be very active in shaping our understanding of Mars and the rest of the universe. Stay tuned.

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Originally published Nov. 26 at 4:15 p.m. PT.
Update, Nov. 27 at 6:56 a.m. PT: Adds NASA confirmation that solar panels are open and operating.
Update, Nov. 28, 12:18 p.m. PT: Adds a second quote from Tom Hoffman.

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