By space standards, it was a bull's-eye. Minutes after touching down on Mars on Monday, NASA's InSight spacecraft sent back a snapshot of its new digs, a dust-speckled image that looked like a work of art to scientists, revealing a mostly smooth and sandy terrain around the spacecraft with only one sizable rock visible, reports the AP. "I'm very, very happy that it looks like we have an incredibly safe and boring landing location" on the western side of Elysium Planitia, project manager Tom Hoffman said. "That's exactly what we were going for." A better image came hours later, and more are expected in the days ahead, after the dust covers come off the lander's cameras. The three-legged, 800-pound spacecraft, a $1 billion international project, arrived at Mars after a perilous, supersonic plunge through its red skies that took just six minutes.
It was NASA's eighth successful landing on Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in six years. Because of the distance between Earth and Mars, it took eight minutes for confirmation to arrive at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., relayed by a pair of tiny satellites that had been trailing InSight throughout the six-month, 300-million-mile journey. "Flawless," declared JPL's chief engineer, Rob Manning. "Sometimes things work out in your favor." Late Monday, NASA reported the spacecraft's vital solar arrays were open and recharging its batteries. Flight controllers will now assess the health of InSight's all-important robot arm and science instruments, which will take months to fine-tune. Lead scientist Bruce Banerdt said he doesn't expect to start getting a stream of solid data until late next spring. (See what scientists hope to learn.)