NASA pulled off its eighth landing of a spacecraft on the surface of Mars as the world watched on Monday last week. But making the long journey and touching down without any explosions is just the beginning.
InSight's descent and landing, consisting of about 1,000 individual steps that had to be flawlessly executed to achieve success, capped a six-month journey of 548 million km from Earth.
The spacecraft was launched from California in May on its nearly $1 billion mission. It will spend the next 24 months - about one Martian year - collecting a wealth of data to unlock mysteries about how Mars formed and, by extension, the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets of the inner solar system.
The first few things the InSight lander did after its hot and harrowing six-minute descent through the Martian atmosphere included snapping a dusty but still remarkable photo and then beginning to unfurl its solar arrays.
The 800-pound lander is parked on a broad plain north of the Martian equator known as Elysium Planitia — a mostly rock-free area that was faintly visible in the photo sent back from the lander. Over the next two to three months, the team on the earth will direct the lander’s six-foot-long robotic arm to pluck each science instrument from the craft and place it directly on the Martian surface.
The most important mission of the trip to Mars is conducted by a dome-shaped seismometer, which is designed to eavesdrop on Mars’ deep interior, listening in on seismic activity and measuring the frequency and magnitude of “marsquakes”.
InSight and the next Mars rover mission, scheduled for 2020, are both seen as precursors for eventual human exploration of Mars, an objective that NASA said might be achieved as early as the mid-2030s.
unfurl: v. 展开；张开
eavesdrop: v. 偷听
seismic: adj. 地震（有关）的