Room erupts as NASA's Mars probe lands
UPDATE: NASA scientists successfully touched down a spacecraft on Mars Monday - completing a nail-biting landing they'd dubbed the "seven minutes of terror."
"Touch down confirmed!" Mission Control announced as NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory burst into applause.
Just minutes later, the room erupted again as the InSight lander beamed its first image of the red planet 100 million miles back to Earth.
"It was intense and you could feel the emotion," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine after the landing.
"It was very, very quiet when it was time to be quiet and of course very celebratory as every new piece of information was received."
📸 Wish you were here! @NASAInSight sent home its first photo after #MarsLanding:— NASA (@NASA) November 26, 2018
InSight’s view is a flat, smooth expanse called Elysium Planitia, but its workspace is below the surface, where it will study Mars’ deep interior. pic.twitter.com/3EU70jXQJw
LIVE NOW: We’re about to have our first #MarsLanding in six years! The landing kicks off a two-year mission for the @NASAInSight spacecraft to study Mars' deep interior. Tune in & watch live coverage now: https://t.co/EeG8qUIvtY— NASA (@NASA) November 26, 2018
Vice President Mike Pence called with his congratulations right away, Bridenstine added.
If all continues to go to plan, the $1-billion international mission will see the InSight spend the next two years exploring Mars' interior.
This is NASA's eighth successful Mars landing - and it first in six years since the Curiosity rover in 2012.
EARLIER: A NASA spacecraft's six-month journey to Mars is nearing its dramatic grand finale.
The InSight lander is expected to touch down within hours, as anxiety builds among those involved in the $1 billion international effort.
NASA scientists are nervously waiting to see if a spacecraft that spent the past six months travelling almost 500 million kilometres to Mars will survive its perilous descent and land softly Monday on the Red Planet.
"I am completely excited and completely nervous, all at the same time," Tom Hoffman, project manager for the InSight lander mission, said at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
"Everything we've done to date makes us feel comfortable and confident we're going to land on Mars, but everything has to go perfectly, and Mars could always throw us a curveball," he added, according to Space.com.
The 363kg lander, which aimed for an afternoon touchdown, must go from 20,000 km/h to zero in six minutes flat as it penetrates the Martian atmosphere, deploys a supersonic parachute, fires its descent engines and - hopefully - lands on three legs.
If all goes according to plan, it will drop onto the equatorial plain called Elysium Planitia at about 8km/h - but scientists won't know if its solar panels will have deployed until about 8.35pm EST, when NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will be in position to relay data to Earth.
Today's the day where @Nasa will attempt to put another robotic probe on Mars. Mars InSight lander will try to determine the planet's internal structure #Mars #MarsInsight #MarsLanding #NASAInSight pic.twitter.com/33x8VLxmOC— BBC Science News (@BBCScienceNews) November 26, 2018
It's aiming for flat red plains, hopefully low on rocks.
Earth's overall success rate at Mars is 40 per cent.
The $1 billion international effort calls for the robotic geologist to explore Mars' mysterious interior.
The InSight is carrying two main science instruments - a burrowing heat probe and a trio of highly sensitive seismometers - to help mission scientists map the Martian insides in unprecedented detail over the next two Earth years, according to Space.com.
The scientists will also use the lander's communications equipment to measure the wobble of Mars' axial tilt - information that will shed light on the size and nature of the planet's core.
The science work won't begin in full for several months, however, because it'll take that long for the team to prepare for the deployment of the seismometer suite and heat probe.
It’s almost time! In less than 15 hours, I’ll plunge through the #Martian atmosphere. But before I do, my team tweaked my flight path one last time to ensure I’m on track for my #MarsLanding tomorrow. Read: https://t.co/6ekCBE2vUW pic.twitter.com/HiejIwCoHb— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 26, 2018
InSight's 1.8m robotic arm will be used to place the instruments on the Martian surface, where they will be calibrated.
"Once we get to the surface, InSight is a slow-motion mission," InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt said during Sunday's news conference.
By examining the interior of Mars, scientists hope to create 3D images that could reveal how the solar system's rocky planets formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they turned out so different.
Earth's success rate at Mars is just 40 percent, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landing by the US, Russia and other countries dating back to 1960.
But the United States has pulled off seven successful landings on the planet in the past four decades - with only one failed touchdown. InSight could hand NASA its eighth win.
Our @NASAInSight lander has to flawlessly perform 1000's of steps in order to travel from the top of Mars’ atmosphere to the surface of the Red Planet. Watch to learn all about the intricate #MarsLanding process—guaranteed to make you hold your breath: https://t.co/cDGwReXtDk pic.twitter.com/3qH95UvWiQ— NASA (@NASA) November 25, 2018
NASA's last Martian landfall took place with the Curiosity rover in 2012, so interest in the mission was heating up, with viewing parties planned at museums, planetariums and libraries across the US.
The giant NASDAQ screen in Times Square will start broadcasting NASA TV an hour before InSight's scheduled 3 p.m. EST touchdown.
You can watch all the action on Space.com. - With Post Wires
This story originally appeared on the New York Post and is republished here with permission.