NASA's InSight spacecraft successfully lands on Mars

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NASA's InSight spacecraft successfully touched down on Mars Monday after a months-long journey to the red planet.

NASA's InSight spacecraft successfully touched down on Mars Monday after a months-long, 300 million-mile journey to the red planet.

Flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, leaped out of their seats and erupted in screams, applause and laughter as the news came in. People hugged, shook hands, exchanged high-fives, pumped their fists, wiped away tears and danced in the aisles.

"Flawless," declared JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning.

"This is what we really hoped and imagined in our mind's eye," he said. "Sometimes things work out in your favor."

The three-legged robot went from more than 12,300 mph down to zero in six minutes flat, a process scientists had anticipated would be "seven minutes of terror." It used a parachute and braking engines to slow down.

InSight launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in May. Engineers at JPL led the mission with a focus on studying the deep interior of the red planet to learn how rocky planets in our solar system -- like Earth -- formed billions of years ago.

A pair of mini satellites trailing InSight since their May liftoff provided practically real-time updates of the spacecraft's supersonic descent through the reddish skies. The satellite also shot back a quick photo from Mars' surface.

The image was marred by specks of debris on the camera cover. But the quick look at the vista showed a flat surface with few if any rocks - just what scientists were hoping for. Much better pictures will arrive in the hours and days ahead.

"In the coming months, and years even, the history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars. In order to do science, we have to be bold and we have to be explorers," Michael Watkins said.

It was NASA's first attempt to land on Mars in six years. Overall, it was NASA's ninth attempt to land on the red planet since the 1976 Viking probes. All but one of the previous U.S. touchdowns were successful.

The stationary 800-pound lander will use its 6-foot robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground. The self-hammering mole will burrow 16 feet down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the seismometer listens for possible quakes.

Nothing like this has been attempted before at our next-door neighbor, nearly 100 million miles away. No lander has dug deeper than several inches, and no seismometer has ever worked on Mars.

InSight has no life-detecting capability, however. That will be left to future rovers. 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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