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The Mars InSight lander as depicted in an illustration with its instruments deployed on the surface of Mars. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The NASA InSight lander survived a perilous descent through the thin Martian atmosphere and successfully landed on a flat part of the Red Planet on Monday at 2:54 p.m. ET. It has already transmitted its first picture back to Earth.

Why it matters: The landing marks the first robot to successfully land on Mars since NASA's Curiosity rover touched down in 2012. The InSight lander arrived on the planet after completing a nearly 300 million mile trip from Earth. It survived a descent referred to by mission controllers as "seven minutes of terror," during which time the spacecraft followed a series of predetermined maneuvers to slow it down enough for a smooth touchdown.

What it's doing there: Unlike other spacecraft sent to Mars, the InSight lander is not designed to seek signs of life, but rather to investigate the planet's interior for clues into how certain planets, including Earth, formed about 4 billion years ago.

Mission controllers celebrate the landing on Nov. 26, 2018.

What we don't know: While we know the spacecraft touched down and sent a "ping" to Earth, indicating it's alive and functioning on the planet, we don't know yet how well the spacecraft survived the rough approach.

  • Scientists are still waiting for confirmation from NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, which is orbiting the planet, that InSight's solar arrays have deployed.
  • The one-way time for a signal to reach Earth from Mars is 8 minutes and 7 seconds on Nov. 26, NASA stated.

The big picture: The U.S. is the only country to have successfully landed spacecraft on Mars, but a glitch-free landing was by no means guaranteed.

  • InSight will be the first spacecraft to drill down into the deep interior of Mars, and scientists hope the data it gathers will give them clues into how the planet formed.
  • The information it gathers could even shed light on how our home planet and others in our solar system evolved.
"InSight will address a fundamental issue of solar system science, not just specific questions about a single planet. By studying Mars, InSight would illuminate the earliest evolution of rocky planets, including Earth."
NASA said in a mission fact sheet

Details: The InSight lander entered the planet's atmosphere at a dizzying speed of about 12,300 mph, and friction heated the spacecraft up to 2,700°F. The spacecraft experienced about 8 times the force of gravity during its descent, according to NASA.

  • A supersonic parachute and retro-rocket thrusters worked to slow it down sufficiently for a three-legged, soft landing on the Elysium Planitia — a flat region near the planet's equator.
  • This landing differed from some of the previous rover landings, which involved a bouncing ball-like structure with the rovers sheltered inside.
  • Two miniature spacecraft, known as Mars Cube One, are following InSight, but they won't land on Mars. Instead, they'll serve as data relay stations to send information gathered by InSight to scientists on Earth. They are the first-ever CubeSats, which are a category of ultra-small satellites, to go into deep space.
  • The mission isn't entirely a NASA operation. Several European institutions have contributed to its payload, including France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales and the German Aerospace Center.

Go deeper

Updated 14 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Education: Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong puts tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge — Pfizer to supply 40 million vaccine doses to lower-income countries — Brazil begins distributing AstraZeneca vaccine.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

DOJ: Capitol rioter threatened to "assassinate" Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Supporters of former President Trump storm the U.S. Captiol on Jan. 6. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A Texas man who has been charged with storming the U.S. Capitol in the deadly Jan. 6 siege posted death threats against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Department of Justice said.

The big picture: Garret Miller faces five charges in connection to the riot by supporters of former President Trump, including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and making threats. According to court documents, Miller posted violent threats online the day of the siege, including tweeting “Assassinate AOC.”

Schumer calls for IG probe into alleged plan by Trump, DOJ lawyer to oust acting AG

Jeffrey Clark speaks next to Deputy US Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen at a news conference in October. Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP via Getty Images.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Saturday called for the Justice Department inspector general to investigate an alleged plan by former President Trump and a DOJ lawyer to remove the acting attorney general and replace him with someone more willing to investigate unfounded claims of election fraud.

Driving the news: The New York Times first reported Friday that the lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, allegedly devised "ways to cast doubt on the election results and to bolster Mr. Trump’s continuing legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians. Because Mr. [Jeffrey] Rosen had refused the president’s entreaties to carry out those plans, Mr. Trump was about to decide whether to fire Mr. Rosen and replace him with Mr. Clark."