NASA’s InSight landed safely on Mars on Monday afternoon just before 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT).
Five hours after landing, mission control at NASA and InSight contractor Lockheed Martin should receive confirmation the solar arrays are in place and working. This will be critical to ensuring InSight can actually carry out its mission to explore the interior of Mars, listen for “Marsquakes” and figure out how many meteorites batter the Red Planet.
“We are solar powered, so getting the arrays out and operating is a big deal,” InSight project manager Tom Hoffman said in a statement following the landing. “With the arrays providing the energy we need to start the cool science operations, we are well on our way to thoroughly investigate what’s inside of Mars for the very first time.”
Elizabeth Barrett, who heads InSight’s instrument operations, told reporters Monday that the process of setting the instruments on the ground alone will take two to three months, followed by another month or two to drill and begin getting science data back.
All told, the science portion of the mission could begin in March 2019.
InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt says the broader goal of InSight is to better understand not just Mars, but Earth and other planets. This is possible because evidence of the early years following Earth’s formation have been erased by processes like weather and plate tectonics that seem to be less active on Mars.
InSight’s $850 million mission is scheduled to run for nearly two Earth years. It may take about that long for the lander to gather enough data to complete its mission goals, team members have said.
“InSight” is short for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.”
InSight’s First Image from Mars: