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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Nasa confirms Insight touchdown on surface of Mars

A Nasa spaceship that will study the interior of Mars landed successfully on Monday as part of the agency’s latest effort to learn more about a planet to which it hopes to send humans someday. The Mars InSight faced a harrowing near seven-minute plunge through the planet’s thin atmosphere at supersonic speeds before touching down.

Since its launch on May 5, the Mars InSight had voyaged more than 480 million kilometres before it began its final approach on Monday. During the entry, descent and landing phase, the probe was tracked for the first time with a pair of small satellites the size of briefcases designed to send data signals back to Earth more quickly.

Nasa said the cube-satellites' “technology demonstration” worked as planned.

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.

Starting in January, the InSight mission will seek to answer critical questions about the rocky planet's formation in the early days of solar system. The geologic record of Mars is preserved far better than that of Earth, which has active tectonic plates and heat convection from its core, dynamic processes that tend to obliterate physical evidence from eons past.

Nasa reported that the lander sent a “safe” signal about eight minutes after touching down, confirming that the probe’s systems were operating normally.

During the plummet to the surface the craft had to decelerate from around 19,000kph to standstill in that short time frame, aided only by two parachutes to assist its descent.

It began to send photographs back from Mars within minutes of the confirmation of the landing: