NASA spacecraft lands on red planet after six-month journey

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Managed by the German Aerospace Centre, the self-hammering HP3 probe will burrow between three and five metres (10 to 16 feet) into the Martian soil - 15 times deeper than any previous hardware on Mars. The goal of the instrument is to provide a definitive measurement of the heat still flowing out from the interior of Mars.

This afternoon, it will pierce the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour.

According to the Principal Investigator for the instrument, Tilman Spohn, the instrument will tell scientists if Mars and Earth formed from the same "stuff", giving a clue to the how the rocky bodies in the solar system evolved.

The InSight lander aimed for a touchdown Monday afternoon, as anxiety built among those involved in the $1 billion global effort.

InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is also the first spacecraft to launch to another planet from the West Coast.

Viewings of the televised activity inside the JPL control room were held coast to coast at museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as New York's Times Square.

During the landing, signals from InSight will take time to travel the 91 million miles back to Earth.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, already in orbit around Mars, will record data from the landing attempt for future analysis, while the MarCO CubeSats will relay real-time information as the spacecraft descends. Up to now, the success rate at the red planet was only 40 percent, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landing by the U.S., Russian Federation and other spacefaring countries since 1960.

In a touch of humor rarely seen from a founding member of the military-industrial complex, Lockheed Martin is changing its name and logo to Lockheed Martian for 24 hours to celebrate the landing of the Mars InSight spacecraft.

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The lander's 12 descent engines will fire, slowing it down and straightening the spacecraft for what engineers hope will be a soft landing in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars, about 373 miles (600 km) north of the Curiosity rover's initial landing site at Gale Crater.

The InSight lander aimed for an afternoon touchdown, as anxiety built among those involved in the $1 billion global effort. The angle of approach and speed are huge factors in ensuring a safe touchdown, and the roughly seven-minute window between InSight's entry into Mars' atmosphere and the actual touchdown are going to be incredibly tense.

The actual InSight probe looks a little bit like the Apollo moon lander, with three legs to support it and a boxy top. They are experimental, however, and NASA is not counting on this data.

NASA last landed on Mars in 2012 with the Curiosity rover.

Germany is in charge of InSight's mole, while France is in charge of the seismometer. As such, the landing, which will take place later today, has been described by NASA as "seven minutes of terror".

"Basically it detected gusts of wind that made the lander shake, but you can't really detect seismic waves using that configuration [on the spacecraft]", Dr Smrekar said.

The mission will study the deep interior of Mars, collecting data on its pulse (seismology), temperature (heat flow) and its reflexes (radio science).

After landing, InSight will unfurl its solar panels and robotic arm and study the entire planet from its parking spot.

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