It’s been 11 days since InSight made its picture-perfect landing on Mars. Vivid new photos taken from the landing site are finally giving mission controllers a sense of the landscape around the stationary probe—and the early signs are very positive. After six years of planning, $814 million in development costs, and a successful 300-million-mile journey to Mars, the key for NASA right now is to exercise patience. InSight landed at Elysium Planitia, a flat plain located just north of the Martian equator, on November 26, which already seems like an eternity ago. We haven’t seen much from the probe yet, aside from a dusty photograph taken during the landing and a neat but subdued image of the probe’s immediate surroundings. We’re finally at the stage, however, when the mission operators can start to unfurl, very slowly and methodically, the probe’s various instruments, including its six-foot-long (2-meter) arm. The robotic appendage appears to be functioning normally, as does the Instrument Deployment Camera attached to its elbow. Eventually, the arm will be used to pick up science instruments from InSight’s deck, gently setting them down on the Martian surface. Once the mission is fully up-and-running, this tool will be the first robotic arm to shove instruments into the surface of another planet, including a seismometer and a heat flow probe. For now, InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera is being used to take photos of the terrain around the lander. And boy, did the probe ever land on a sweet spot. Just take a… [Read full story]
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