[Early today morning, NASA Mars InSight sent this selfie right from the red Planet. (Photo: @NASAInSight)]
Pasadena (California): Cheers and applause erupted at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Monday as a waist-high unmanned lander, called InSight, touched down on Mars, capping a nearly seven-year journey from design to launch to landing.
The dramatic arrival of the $993 million spacecraft -- designed to listen for quakes and tremors as a way to unveil the Red Planet's inner mysteries, how it formed billions of years ago and, by extension, how other rocky planets like Earth took shape -- marked the eighth successful landing on Mars in NASA's history, according to AFP.
"Touchdown confirmed," a mission control operator at NASA said, as pent-up anxiety and excitement surged through the room, and dozens of scientists leapt from their seats to embrace each other.
"It was intense and you could feel the emotion," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, in an interview on NASA television afterward.
Bridenstine also said President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had watched on television and called to congratulate the US space agency for its hard work.
"Ultimately, the day is coming when we land humans on Mars," Bridenstine said, adding that the goal is to do so by the mid 2030s.
NASA is the only space agency to have made it, and is invested in these robotic missions as a way to prepare for the first Mars-bound human explorers in the 2030s. It was NASA's first attempt to touch down on Earth's neighboring planet since the Curiosity rover arrived in 2012. More than half of 43 attempts to reach Mars with rovers, orbiters and probes by space agencies from around the world have failed.
The vehicle appeared to be in good shape, according to the first communications received from the Martian surface. But as expected, the dust kicked up during the landing obscured the first picture InSight sent back, which was heavily flecked.
However early today signals indicating that its solar panels had opened and were generating power came back to Earth at about 8:30 PM ET, along with a few photographs relayed via another visitor to Mars: The Odyssey orbiter. While it's expected to take two to three months to fully deploy the lander's instruments, this image came from its Instrument Deployment Camera which is mounted on a robotic arm.
InSight's landing was live streamed on NASA TV Public Channel, the agency's website, and social media channels. Beginning at 2:00 pm EST on November 26, there was live landing commentary on the NASA TV Public Channel. That ran until 3:30 pm.
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