InSight lander takes its first selfie on Mars, says NASA

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Washington | Updated: December 12, 2018 2:49:20 PM

NASA's InSight spacecraft has used a camera on its robotic arm to take its first selfie -- a mosaic made up of 11 images, the US space agency said.

NASA, InSight, nasa insight spacecraft, insight workspace, Jet Propulsion LaboratoryThe InSight lander, designed to dig deep into the rocky surface of Mars to reveal its secrets, touched down on Mars on November 26. (Photo source: NASA)

NASA’s InSight spacecraft has used a camera on its robotic arm to take its first selfie — a mosaic made up of 11 images, the US space agency said. This is the same imaging process used by Curiosity rover mission, in which many overlapping pictures are taken and later stitched together, NASA said in a statement. Visible in the selfie are the lander’s solar panel and its entire deck, including its science instruments.

The InSight lander, designed to dig deep into the rocky surface of Mars to reveal its secrets, touched down on Mars on November 26. Mission team members have also received their first complete look at InSight’s “workspace” – the nearly 4-by-2-metre crescent of terrain directly in front of the spacecraft. This image is also a mosaic composed of 52 individual photos, according to NASA.

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In the coming weeks, scientists and engineers will go through the painstaking process of deciding where in this workspace the spacecraft’s instruments should be placed, it said. They will then command InSight’s robotic arm to carefully set the seismometer and heat-flow probe in the chosen locations. Both work best on level ground, and engineers want to avoid setting them on rocks larger than about a half-inch.

“The near-absence of rocks, hills and holes means it’ll be extremely safe for our instruments,” said InSight’s Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “This might seem like a pretty plain piece of ground if it weren’t on Mars, but we’re glad to see that,” Banerdt said. InSight’s landing team deliberately chose a landing region in Elysium Planitia that is relatively free of rocks.

The landing spot turned out even better than they hoped. The spacecraft sits in what appears to be a nearly rock-free “hollow” — a depression created by a meteor impact that later filled with sand. That should make it easier for one of InSight’s instruments, the heat-flow probe, to bore down to its goal of five metres below the surface.

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