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NASA’s InSight probe touches down on Mars

 InSight about to land on the surface of Mars InSight about to land on the surface of MarsAfter a seven-month, 500-million-kilometre (300-million-mile) journey, NASA’s Mars InSight probe has successfully touched down on the Elysium Planitia, a vast, smooth lava plain near Mars’s equator. Mission scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California cheered when the lander came to a rest at 19:53 on Monday 26th November 2018. Its descent began just seven minutes earlier when the spacecraft hit the thin Martian atmosphere at 20,000 km/h (12,300 mph)—faster than a high-velocity bullet. Soon afterwards, the lander released its parachute. It then blasted off its heat shield and fired 12 retro-thrusters to slow its descent.

MarCO satellites relay signals during landingMarCO satellites relay signals during landingSending a space probe to Mars is a high-risk operation: only 40% of missions have succeeded. In 2016, the European Space Agency attempted to put the Schiaparelli probe on Mars, but the lander's retro-rockets shut down too early and it smashed into the ground.

Two miniature satellites, each no bigger than briefcases, were sent to Mars along with the lander. Called Mars Cube One, or MarCO, A and B, they relayed InSight's signals back to Earth during the plunge to the surface.

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