Cheers and applause erupted at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Monday as a $993 million unmanned lander, called InSight, touched down on the Red Planet and managed to send back its first picture.
The high-drama landing of the waist-high spacecraft capped a nearly seven year journey, from spacecraft design, to launch to eventual touchdown, marking the eighth successful landing on Mars in NASA history. "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.
The vehicle appeared to be in good shape, according to the first communications received from the Martian surface. Next, InSight must open its solar arrays, as NASA waits until later in the afternoon to learn if that final, crucial phase also went as planned. Mars InSight's goal is 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.