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Why NASA’s InSight landing was a triumph of human achievement


NASA engineers Kris Bruvold (left) and Sandy Krasner (right) celebrate after the InSight lander safely touched down on Mars. 

Al Seib/AFP/Getty Images

Just 50 years ago, landing on another planet was a pipe dream. But these days it feels like we could pop over there for a cup of tea. 

Half a century after they first landed men on the moon, NASA’s scientists showed how far they’ve come when they landed the InSight mission on the surface of Mars this week. And unlike the moon landing, they completed the most difficult part of the mission — the speedy descent through the atmosphere, the deployment of parachute and lander legs and the eventual landing on the surface of Mars — all with their hands off the controls. 

In this week’s episode of Watch This Space, we take a look at what went into getting InSight onto the Martian surface. We take a look at the “seven minutes of terror” (the time between first hitting the planet’s atmosphere to the moment it safely lands) and how NASA did it without any real-time input from Earth. 

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From the complex calculations to the precise commands that had to be pre-programmed into the spacecraft, InSight was a triumph of human achievement and a sign of just how much we’ve advanced in the world of space travel. And it’s just getting started.

But beyond all the machinery and mathematics, the highlight of the landing was the human side. There’s nothing better than watching a lifetime of work come down to a few seconds, and seeing the world’s smartest people weep in anticipation or celebrate with the perfect handshake. 

For more on the InSight mission, check out Episode 8 of Watch This Space, which takes a look at the science behind the mission and what NASA hopes to discover by drilling into the red planet. And don’t forget, you can check out the full Watch This Space series on YouTube.

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