After nearly seven months and more than 300 million miles, NASA’s InSight spacecraft touched down on Mars on Monday to cheers.
The suspenseful landing, which followed what engineers described as “seven minutes of terror” as the robot rapidly decelerated from 12,300 to 5 mph, is NASA’s first such landing attempt on the Red Planet in six years.
Since 1960, various national space agencies have made 44 similar attempts to land on Mars, but only 18 of those were completely successful, according to NASA.
The control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where InSight’s entry, descent and landing (EDL) team was based, erupted in cheers on Monday at the words “touchdown confirmed” as people jumped out of their chairs to embrace and applaud.
Within minutes of its successful landing in a region called “Elysium Planitia,” described as a flat and smooth plain close to the planet’s equator, NASA shared a photo of Mars that the space agency said was taken by InSight.
Vice President Mike Pence was among the immediate well-wishers on Twitter who lauded NASA’s achievement as an “incredible milestone.”
“It’s exactly why America must continue to lead the way by investing in science and space exploration,” tweeted Mark Kelly.
In New York City, revelers cheered on the landing in Times Square where the mission was broadcast live from the Nasdaq tower.
Once on Mars, InSight will drill into the ground with a probe to offer mankind a first-ever look inside the Red Planet’s core, mantle and crust.
“We’ve studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry,” Lori Glaze, acting director of the planetary science division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said in a release on Sunday. “Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbor as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system.”
The robot’s journey was especially harrowing for its team of scientists and engineers, who had no control of it once it reached Mars’ atmosphere. Instead, NASA’s EDL team spent months pre-programing the spacecraft’s landing, basing their calculations off of weather reports that they received from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
About two hours before InSight began its landing, the EDL team made some final tweaks to the spacecraft’s flight path before it carried out its landing solo.
This story has been updated with additional quotes and information about the landing.