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InSight mission to Mars has touched down inside a cozy sandbox

NASA had a great success this week, landing its InSight craft on the surface of Mars. Now NASA has shared more details about the landing, in particular that the lander has touched down inside a crater, which means it sits at a slight angle.

The InSight lander made it safely through the atmosphere of Mars and touched down on the surface to enable the study of the deep interior of the planet, marking only the eighth time in history that a man-made object has successfully landed on the planet. Once it had landed, InSight sent out communications signals which the NASA team was able to pick up to confirm the successful landing.

However, NASA has now shared that the InSight vehicle is sitting in a shallow impact crater full of dust and sand known as a hollow. The uneven crater means that the vehicle is sitting at an angle of about 4 degrees. This shouldn’t be a problem for the mission though, as InSight was designed to operate on surfaces with an incline of up to 15 degrees.

InSight project manager Tom Hoffman explains that despite the slight angle, the landing site is actually ideal as it is free from rocks and or other hazards which could be a danger to the vehicle: “There are no landing pads or runways on Mars, so coming down in an area that is basically a large sandbox without any large rocks should make instrument deployment easier and provide a great place for our mole to start burrowing.”

The challenge with operating from within a crater is getting InSight’s heat-flow probe and seismometer placed safely into the planet’s surface, as both the slope grade and the presence of rocks nearby can be potential issues when placing the instruments. Another issue with a crooked landing is with the solar panels that the spacecraft uses to generate power from its solar arrays. If they had been at the wrong angle or blocked by a rock, then power generation would have been a problem. Fortunately the craft was able to deploy its two solar arrays successfully after landing.

We can expect to see high resolution images from the area around the landing within the next few days, once InSight releases the dust covers that kept its cameras safe during the landing.

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