NASA lands "Insight" space probe on Mars

The first image the In Sight spacecraft took of the planet's surface after it successfully landed on Mars

The first image the In Sight spacecraft took of the planet's surface after it successfully landed on Mars

It proved to be Mike Pence, the USA vice president, calling to congratulate the team.

Carrying instruments that detect planetary heat and seismic rumblings never measured anywhere else but Earth, the stationary lander streaked into the thin Martian atmosphere at 12,300 miles (19,795 km) per hour. The lander touched down near Mars' equator on the western side of a flat, smooth expanse of lava called Elysium Planitia - a plain nearly as flat as a parking lot - just moments before 3 pm EST.

"It is wonderful news that the InSight spacecraft has landed safely on Mars", said Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency.

Ahead of the landing, the mission control team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles conducted a final adjustment to the InSight's flight path on Sunday to steer the spacecraft closer to its target arrival point over Mars.

Congratulations flooded into the space agency following the success, including from Mike Pence, the USA vice president, who celebrated the "incredible milestone" of the country's eighth successful landing on Mars.

Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of space missions. The successful landing is a feat of engineering and space savvy, as only about 40 percent of missions that have been sent to Mars (by any space agency) have met with success. InSight will spend two years investigating the interior where the building blocks below the planet's surface that recorded its history.

The British seismic measuring tool will help scientists understand the inside of Mars, which has not yet been studied in depth.

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The German Aerospace Center (DLR) provided a self-hammering mole that can burrow 16 feet (five meters) into the surface - further than any instrument before - to measure heat flow. How, though, could scientists know whether or not there are mission-scuttling rocks hidden just below Elysium Planitia's dirt?

Mars once had flowing rivers and lakes, but the deltas and lakebeds are now dry.

And a radio transmitter will send back signals tracking Mars's subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet's core and possibly whether it remains molten.

Bridenstine also said Vice President Mike Pence called to congratulate the USA space agency for its hard work. "We just love that shaking, and so the more shaking it does, the better we can see the inside".

By examining and mapping the interior of Mars, scientists hope to learn why the rocky planets in our solar system turned out so different and why Earth became a haven for life.

Once on Mars, InSight will drill into the ground with a probe to offer mankind a first-ever look inside the Red Planet.

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