NASA’s first mission to Mars in six years has landed safely. The probe, titled InSight, touched down on the Red Planet just before 3 pm EST.
The landing required InSight (which stands for “Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport”) to decelerate from 12,300 mph to zero in six minutes, with the help of a parachute and a number of engines. Due to a natural delay in radio transmissions, no one knew if the probe landed safely for seven minutes—a tense wait for those who have worked on the $830 million-project since its beginning roughly seven years ago.
Now that it’s landed on Elysium Planitia, a plain north of Mars’ equator, InSight will send a health report and a picture of its surroundings. It’s already sent its first photo, although it’s not much to see.
InSight’s mission is unique: It’ll be the first probe to explore the interior of Mars.
Using a “mole” capable of drilling 5 meters below the surface, InSight will be able to take the planet’s internal temperature. This will help scientists determine what Mars is made of—whether it’s the same material as Earth or not. Additionally, it’ll give further insights into how the planet evolved.
InSight is also equipped with seismometers to measure minor vibrations that will give more information on the planet’s internal structure, helping scientists determine whether there’s water or volcanoes below.
Finally, InSight will use radio transmissions to track how Mars wobbles on its axis. This will give scientists more data on Mars’ core. They know it’s rich in iron, but there may also be liquid and other elements.
All of this will help scientists better understand how planets form.
“The small details in how planets evolve are what we think make the difference between a place like Earth where you can go on vacation and get a tan, and a place like Venus where you’ll burn in seconds or a place like Mars where you’ll freeze to death,” InSight chief scientist Bruce Banerdt told BBC.
According to TIME, InSight is expected to send data back home for at least two years.