Mars touchdown: Safe landing for NASA's InSight spacecraft

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Late Monday, NASA released a clean photo taken by a higher camera that showed part of the lander and the landscape.

"Touchdown confirmed", announced Christine Szalai, a systems engineer at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, from where the mission is led.

NASA hasn't committed to a MarCO-like mission for its next Mars lander, the Mars 2020 rover, but Klesh said the success of MarCO has opened the door to that and other uses of smallsats in deep space.

NASA's mission is the first to study and map the interior structure of the Red Planet.

But getting there was the challenge.

CNN reported that a few minutes after landing, the InSight lander sent an official "beep" to NASA signaling its clear landing, including a photo of the Martian surface where it landed.

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

"In the coming months and years even, history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars", said JPL's director, Michael Watkins.

After entering the atmosphere at 12,300 miles per hour and dealing with heat up to 2,700 degree Fahrenheit, InSight completed its EDL and landed at 2:54pm ET.

When the craft was a good distance away from the surface, a parachute 12 metres in diameter deployed at a supersonic speed.

Once InSight measures the heat flow number just below its landing site, it can be extrapolated globally, adds Smrekar. That's why scientists chose Elysium Planitia as InSight's home, according to NASA. Radio signals confirming the landing took more than eight minutes to cross the almost 100 million miles (160 million km) between Mars and Earth.

The device, described as a self-hammering mechanism, is a component of a heat probe that will examine the thermal properties of the Red Planet.

A second instrument will burrow five metres into the ground of Mars, measuring the planet's temperature, while a third experiment will determine how Mars wobbles on its axis.

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry". And speaking of the core, the big question among scientists, is it a solid core, a liquid core?

"The reason why we're digging into Mars is to better understand not just Mars, but the Earth itself", said JPL's Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator. The data could then help scientists when they are narrowing down what exoplanets to search for when looking for Earth-like worlds.