NASA's InSight snaps a clear view of Mars' surface


Minutes later, JPL controllers received a fuzzy "selfie" photograph of the probe's new surroundings on the Red Planet, showing the edge of one lander leg beside a rock.

In ballet-like fashion, InSight executed a gravity turn to make sure the lander was in the right position before touching down.

The spacecraft, created to burrow beneath the surface of Mars, landed Monday after a six-month, 482-million-kilometre journey and a perilous, six-minute descent through the rose-hued atmosphere.

The spacecraft was launched from California in May on its almost $1 billion mission.

"Every Mars landing is daunting, but now with InSight safely on the surface, we get to do a unique kind of science on Mars", JPL director Michael Watkins said. This was the area in front of the lander.

"Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration", said InSight's lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt. A central question is why Mars, once a relatively warm, wet planet, evolved so differently from Earth into a mostly dry, desolate and cold world, devoid of life. He said the basic design of InSight was inherited from the Phoenix spacecraft, which landed on Mars on May 25, 2008.

The nail-biting entry, descent and landing phase began at 11:47 am (01:10 am IST) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home to mission control for Mars InSight, and ended one second before 01:23 IST.

InSight, a almost $1.5 billion NZD worldwide venture, reached the surface after going from 19,800 km/h to zero in six minutes flat, using a parachute and braking engines.

The lander will take several weeks to deploy two of its three instruments, the seismometer and probe on to the Martian surface.

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But scientists did not expect to verify successful deployment of the solar arrays for at least several hours.

The US, however, has pulled off seven successful Mars landings in the past four decades, not counting InSight, with only one failed touchdown.

Almost two dozen other Mars missions have been sent from other nations.

The landing is NASA's first attempt to explore the red planet since August 2012, when the massive, 2,000-pound Curiosity rover used a unique "sky crane" to touch down successfully on the surface.

InSight carries three instruments designed and built in the United Kingdom as part of the seismic package. This will be on the surface of Mars to measure seismic waves from Marsquakes.

It'll aim to see whether the planet is seismically active by observing movements beneath the crust.

A quick photo sent from Mars' surface was marred by specks of debris on the camera cover but showed a flat surface with few if any rocks - just what scientists were hoping for. But InSight is expected to yield the first meaningful data on planetary seismic tremors beyond Earth.

The self-hammering mole will burrow 16 feet down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the ultra-high-tech seismometer listens for possible marsquakes.

Meanwhile, a radio transmitter will send back signals tracking Mars' subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet's core and possibly whether it remains molten. "Within two or three months, the arm will deploy the mission's main science instruments, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instruments".