NASA spacecraft lands on red planet after six-month journey

Touchdown: NASA's InSight Lands on Mars (VIDEO)

NASA’s InSight Spacecraft Lands Successfully On Mars After 300-Million-Mile Journey

The InSight lander touched down on Mars just before 8pm GMT, surviving the so-called "seven minutes of terror" - a tricky landing phase for the robotic probe, travelling at 13,200mph through the planet's thin atmosphere which provides little friction to slow down.

Museums, planetariums and libraries across the US held viewing parties to watch the events unfold at JPL.

The robotic will slow down from 12,300 miles per hour to zero in six minutes flat as it pierces the Martian atmosphere, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and, hopefully, lands on three legs.

It withstood temperatures up to 2,700F (1,500C) - hot enough to melt steel - before deploying its parachute and 12 retro-rockets to gently touch down in an area known as Elysium Planitia.

NASA's Curiosity rover, which arrived in 2012, is still on the move on Mars. NASA's Mars 2020 mission, for instance, will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analyzed for evidence of ancient life. No other country has managed to set and operate even a single spacecraft on the dusty surface. A few minutes later, InSight sent the official "beep" to NASA to signal that it was alive and well, including a photo of the Martian surface where it landed.

Tom Hoffman, InSight Project Manager, NASA JPL talks about the Mars InSight landing site during a pre-landing briefing today. Directly measuring the flow of this heat in modern Mars will help alleviate some huge uncertainties in planetary formation models.

InSight - short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - will spend two years collecting data on how Mars formed.

The US space agency's robotic lander is on a mission to find out how warm and geologically active the planet is.

People celebrate as the In Sight lander touchdowns on Mars at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
People celebrate as the In Sight lander touchdowns on Mars at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

If Insight lives through the perilous descent and lands in one piece, it will mean a small corner of an alien planet will be forever British.

"We never take Mars for granted".

The dark flecks in the image that resemble nothing so much as bacteria on a microscope slide are dust and debris kicked up by the lander's engines, clinging to the semi-transparent cover.

"I'll tell you, it was intense, and you could feel the emotion", Bridenstine told Gay Yee Hill, a spokesperson for JPL, during the landing webcast.

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

It is known as the Red Planet because of its red appearance.

If the instrument establishes that Mars has the remains of a liquid core it will suggest the planet once had a magnetic field that could have shielded early life - before dramatically and mysteriously weakening. "We just love that shaking, and so the more shaking it does, the better we can see the inside".

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