This image from InSight's robotic-arm mounted Instrument Deployment Camera shows the instruments on the spacecraft's deck, with the Martian surface of Elysium Planitia in the background. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The government space agency shared the photos to Twitter and on its website, as it gets ready to explore the Elysium Planitia, the plain where the lander touched down on Nov. 26.
"Raise your hand if you’re in this new photo from #Mars!" NASA wrote in one tweet. "These two tiny chips contain the names of more than 2.4 million people who signed up to fly with me. We’re ON MARS, you guys. You’re all honorary Martians!"
In another, NASA wrote: "One step at a time...
Now that I’ve got my arm out, I can start making a detailed 3D map of my workspace, the area right in front of me where I’ll place my instruments. Here’s more on what I’ve been doing, and what’s yet to come."
"Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace," said Bruce Banerdt, the mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. in a statement. "By early next week, we'll be imaging it in finer detail and creating a full mosaic."
In addition to taking pictures, the nearly 6-foot arm will be used to pick up science instruments from the lander's deck. The photos will help the mission team decide where to put the lander's seismometer and heat flow probe — "the only instruments ever to be robotically placed on the surface of another planet," NASA said.
There's also another camera on the lander, which cost $828 million, known as the Instrument Context Camera. This camera is under the lander's deck and, even though it was covered, dust managed to get on the lens, Tom Hoffman of JPL, InSight's project manager, added.
Since the InSight lander set down on the Red Planet a week and a half ago, ending a journey that lasted six months and covered more than 300 million miles, it's been quite busy for NASA.
"Over the past week and a half, mission engineers have been testing those instruments and spacecraft systems, ensuring they're in working order," NASA said in the statement. "A couple instruments are even recording data: a drop in air pressure, possibly caused by a passing dust devil, was detected by the pressure sensor. This, along with a magnetometer and a set of wind and temperature sensors, are part of a package called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem, which will collect meteorological data."
The InSight lander entered Mars' atmosphere just shortly after 2:40 p.m. EST on Nov. 26 and touched the surface at approximately 2:54 p.m. EST. The last part of the journey was the most harrowing, with NASA calling it "seven minutes of terror" due to the agency's inability to control the landing of the spacecraft.
As the lander descended, it was hit with extreme temperatures, speeds and forces. In an attempt to prevent any damage to the craft, NASA chose a "vanilla ice cream" landing site, the Elysium Planitia, which is flat and featureless.
The InSight Lander is the space agency’s first probe to reach the Red Planet in six years, following the August 2012 landing of the Curiosity Rover. The Rover, which has more than 12 miles on its odometer, is currently the only thing operating on the Martian surface. The Opportunity Rover, which was launched in July 2003, is currently inoperable thanks to a dust storm the Red Planet experienced several months ago.
The unmanned probe, which is built by Lockheed Martin, will dig deeper into the planet than anything that's come before.
InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is also the first spacecraft to launch to another planet from the West Coast. The spacecraft blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5, 2018 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas v 401 rocket.
NASA’s last landing on Mars took place in 2012 when the Curiosity Rover reached the Red Planet. The Rover, which has more than 12 miles on its odometer, is currently the only thing operating on the Martian surface.
The space agency's older, smaller Opportunity was roaming around up there until June, when a global dust storm knocked it out of service. Flight controllers haven't given up hope yet that it will be revived.
Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.
NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.
Last month, the space agency announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. The Rover is expected to land on Mars Feb. 18, 2021.