It's been 11 days since InSight made its perfect landing on Mars. Lively new photos taken from the landing pad finally give the mission controllers a sense of the landscape around the stationary probe – and the first signs are very positive.
After six years of planning, $ 814 million in development costs, and 300 million successful miles to Mars, the key to NASA's patience now.
InSight landed on the 26th of November in Elysium Planitia, a flat plain north of the Martian equator that seems like an eternity. We have not seen much of the probe yet, except for a dusty photograph taken during the landing and a clean but subdued image of the immediate vicinity of the probe.
"Today we can see the first insights into our workspace."  At last, we are in the phase where the mission operators can slowly and methodically unfold the various instruments of the probe, including the two-meter-long arm. The robot attachment seems to work normally, as does the instrument delivery camera attached to his elbow. Finally, the arm is used to pick up scientific instruments from the InSight deck and gently lay them on the surface of Mars. Once the mission is fully operational, this tool will be the first robot arm to push instruments into the surface of another planet, including a seismometer and a heat flux probe.
The InSight Instrument Camera is currently under construction to photograph the terrain around the lander. And, boy, the probe has ever landed in one place. Just look at this picture:
"Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace," said Bruce Banerdt, the NASA mission's lead investigator, in a statement. "Until the beginning of next week we will train more closely and create a complete mosaic."
In fact, more images are needed to draw a complete picture of InSight's new excavations, but this location looks amazing, especially for a probe for drilling through the Martian surface. Photos taken by the probe show a relatively flat, dusty surface that is free of interfering rocks. There was always concern that the probe could land on a large, partially buried rock. For example, imagine InSight landing on one of these boulders on the horizon (see the figure below).
InSight has another imaging tool, the Instrument Context Camera, which looks at the terrain immediately around and under the landing deck. Photos produced with this camera are not nearly as pretty, but they have a useful function. Unfortunately, despite a protective cover on the Instrument Context Camera, the dust somehow got into the lens, according to NASA.
"We had a protective cover for the Instrument Context Camera, but somehow dust was still on the camera," said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "While this is unfortunate, it does not affect the camera's role, namely, the inclusion of the area in front of the lander into which our instruments are placed."
NASA states that InSight's instruments are not fully positioned and calibrated for another 30 to 60 days. One of these instruments, the auxiliary payload sensor subsystem, may collect important meteorological data such as wind speed and air temperature. However, the probe's pressure sensor seems to be working, and he's already noticed a sudden drop in air pressure, a possible sign of a passing dust devil, NASA said.
In fact, NASA is phasing out. InSight, for example, has a feature that unexpectedly triggers an "error" on unexpected readings. In this case, the probe stops operating immediately and waits for operators to assess the situation and take the next steps required. One of the reasons for this is the time delay; With the enormous distance between Earth and Mars, it takes about 12.5 minutes to get directions to the probe so that NASA operators can not work in real time. NASA says an error has already been triggered that delayed the first batch of images to be delivered to Earth this past weekend.
"We have done extensive testing on Earth. But we know that everything is a little different for the lander on Mars, so mistakes are not uncommon, "said Hoffman. "You can delay the operation, but we are not in a hurry. We want to be sure that every operation we do on Mars is safe. That's why we initially set our security monitors to fairly sensitive. "
In fact, there is plenty of time, and NASA can afford to be patient. The InSight mission is set up for two years. As things go, let us enjoy these remarkable images taken from the surface of an alien world.