It may not look like much, but the picture represents decades of collective work by hundreds of people.
The Mars InSight Lander has beamed down a selfie of sorts, showing its robotic arm raised in triumph against the dim Martian sky, Space.com is reporting.
It may not look like much, but the photo — which follows below — is meant to evoke famed photographs of athletes, for example, raising their hands above their heads in jubilation after a dramatic win. And in a way, InSight’s successful landing last week was a win — a win for the hundreds of people whose collective efforts represent decades of work. Astronomers, engineers, geologists, mathematicians, aerodynamics experts, and countless other workers from multiple other disciplines all had a hand in putting the spacecraft successfully onto the surface of the red planet.
In fact, that the spacecraft got there at all — and survived its entry into the Martian atmosphere, and its touchdown on the ground — is borderline miraculous. As Forbes reported in November, about half of the missions to Mars that have been attempted have been unsuccessful. Some have blown up on the launch pad. Some have gone off-course and missed their target, still hurtling through space as of this writing. Many don’t survive the descent through Mars’ atmosphere.
Yet InSight did, and the spacecraft celebrated its triumph with a pose.
That black box you see against the gray Martian sky is InSight’s scoop, which will dig down into the Martian soil for signs that life exists — or ever did exist — on the planet. The robotic arm is about 5.75-feet in length, and also on the device — which can’t be seen in the picture — is the Instrument Deployment Camera, which took the picture. Below that is a five-fingered, wax-actuated grapple, which will place certain instruments onto the ground.
Those instruments include a heat probe which will burrow into the soil, and a group of seismometers so sensitive that they can detect earthquakes with the amplitude of a single item. The arm and grapple will also put heat and weather shields over the devices until they’re ready to be used.
When that will happen remains unclear. Space.com writer Mike Wall notes that InSight’s team wants to spend a few months getting their bearings. In the mean time, they’ll be studying which areas in the lander’s vicinity hold the most potential for further exploration with the instruments. They’ll also be going through several practice runs to make sure they have the sequence of procedures down pat before they deploy.
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