NASA's InSight lands on Mars; Twitter is obsessed with scientists' 'crazy handshake dance' and the 'cool hat guy'

As a NASA spacecraft designed to burrow beneath the surface of Mars landed on the red planet on Monday after a six-month, 300 million-mile (482 million-kilometer) journey and a perilous, six-minute descent through the rose-hued atmosphere, the team behind the achievement was seen celebrating their seven-year-long journey of creating the iconic 'geo-station' at Mars.

As soon as the spacecraft touched the surface of the red planet, cheers and applause erupted at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The dramatic arrival of the $993 million spacecraft — designed to listen for quakes and tremors as a way to unveil the Red Planet's inner mysteries, how it formed billions of years ago and, by extension, how other rocky planets like Earth took shape — marked the eighth successful landing on Mars in NASA's history.

"Touchdown confirmed," a mission control operator at NASA said, as pent-up anxiety and excitement surged through the room, and dozens of scientists leapt from their seats to embrace each other.

"It was intense and you could feel the emotion," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, in an interview on NASA television afterward. Bridenstine also said President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had watched on television and called to congratulate the US space agency for its hard work.

"Ultimately, the day is coming when we land humans on Mars," Bridenstine said, adding that the goal is to do so by the mid 2030s. France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) made the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, the key element for sensing quakes.

The principal investigator on the French seismometer, Philippe Lognonne, said he was "relieved and very happy" at the outcome. "I've just received confirmation that there are no rocks in front of the lander," he told AFP.

More than half of 43 attempts to reach Mars with rovers, orbiters and probes by space agencies from around the world have failed. NASA is the only space agency to have made it, and is invested in these robotic missions as a way to prepare for the first Mars-bound human explorers in the 2030s. "We never take Mars for granted. Mars is hard," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for the science mission directorate, said on Sunday. 

The nail-biting entry, descent and landing phase began at 11:47 am (01:10 am IST) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home to mission control for Mars InSight, and ended one second before 01:23 IST. A carefully orchestrated sequence — already fully preprogrammed on board the spacecraft — unfolded over the following several minutes, coined "six and a half minutes of terror."

Reactions poured in on Twitter as well, as science writers, journalists and general public cheered and praised the NASA team behind the nearly seven-year journey from design to launch to landing of the rover.

While the US space agency tweeted pictures and videos of excited scientists breaking up in applause and loud cheers, Twitter users were particularly amused by the 'silly high-five/dance' of two excited team members as soon as the rover touched base.

While some people were amused by the 'hipster hat guy' killing it in style.

Scientists from across the world hailed NASA's latest achievement as one of its kind, and highlighted that the InSight's goals and achievements should not be compared to other previous missions to explore the red planet.

"InSight is different to previous Mars missions. It is not a rover or an orbiter. It is a geophysical station to be placed on the surface with passive instruments that will sense the interior structure. The aim is to understand how Mars has formed, how it differentiated and how much is it different to our planet. Ultimately, this will contribute to the knowledge of how all rocky planets formed," Katarina Miljkovic, an ARC DECRA Fellow at Curtin University was quoted as saying by Scimex magazine.

Timothy Schmidt, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of NSW told Scimex, "The InSight mission will allow us to peer beneath the immediate surface of Mars for the first time. This will allow us to better understand how it was formed, and its present condition. Just like you can tell a hard-boiled from a raw egg by how it spins, the RISE instrument will allow us to determine the internal structure of Mars by tracking how it rotates."

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Nov 27, 2018 11:14:56 IST

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