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NASA’s InSight probe touches down on 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 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.

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