The Mars InSight lander has touched down on the dusty Red Planet after sailing 548 million kilometers over a six-month voyage through deep space.
- InSight will be the first to study Mars' inner secrets
- Spacecraft is equipped with instruments to detect planetary heat and seismic rumblings
- InSight marks the 21st Mars mission launched by United States
The landing, which took place just before 7:00 a.m. AEDT, saw the NASA spacecraft hurtle through the top of Mars' thin atmosphere at 19.795km per hour.
Slowed by friction, deployment of a supersonic parachute and the firing of retro rockets, InSight dropped 123km through pink skies to the surface in 6.5 minutes.
It sends back a photo shortly after landing showing a successful touchdown on the surface, with the camera's transparent lens cap still on and covered in dust.
The view showed a flat surface with few if any rocks – just what scientists were hoping for.
"I feel you, Mars," NASA's Twitter account for the probe posted.
Much better pictures will arrive in the hours and days ahead.
The first photo from the InSight Probe – with the lens cap and dust from landing still visible.
(Twitter: NASA JPL)
In 2016, the European Schiaparelli lander, the only spacecraft to try to land on the planet since the Curiosity Rover, crashed and burned.
InSight's successful landing makes it the first spacecraft to study the Red Planet's inner secrets.
It is equipped with instruments to detect planetary heat and seismic rumblings never measured anywhere but Earth.
After waiting in white-knuckle suspense for confirmation to arrive from space, flight controllers at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, leaped out of their seats and erupted in screams, applause and laughter as the news came in that the three -legged, $ US1 billion InSight spacecraft had successfully touched down.
People hugged, shook hands, exchanged high-fives, pumped their fists, wiped away tears and danced in the aisles.
"Flawless," declared JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning.
"This is what we really hoped and imagined in our mind's eye. Sometimes things work out in your favor."
"Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration," InSight's lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt, said before Monday's success.
"It's such a difficult thing, it's such a dangerous thing that there's always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong."
Ahead of the landing, the mission control team at JPL conducted a final adjustment to the InSight's flight path on Sunday to steer the spacecraft closer to its target arrival point over Mars.
The stationary probe, launched in May from California, paused for 16 minutes for the dust to settle, literally, around its landing site, before unfurling its disk-shaped solar panels like wings to provide power to the spacecraft.
Engineers at JPL received real-time confirmation of the craft's arrival from data relayed by a pair of miniature satellites that were launched along with InSight.
Once the spacecraft lands it will use a robotic arm to place instruments on and under the surface of Mars. (Supplied: AP / NASA)
The landing site is roughly 600km from the 2012 landing spot of the car-sized Mars rover Curiosity, the last spacecraft sent to the Red Planet by NASA.
The smaller, 360kg InSight – Its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport – marks the 21st US-launched Mars mission, dating back to the Mariner fly-bys of the 1960s.
@NASAInSight tweet: I feel you, Mars – and soon I'll know your heart. With this safe landing, I'm here. I'm home
Nearly two dozen other Mars missions have been sent from other nations.
InSight will spend 24 months – about one Martian year – using seismic monitoring and underground temperature readings to unlock mysteries about how Mars formed and, by extension, the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets of the solar system.
The spacecraft has no life-detecting capability, however. That will be left to future rovers, such as NASA's Mars 2020 mission, which will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analyzed for evidence of ancient life.
Reuters / AP