Technology 27 November 2018 | 18:42

It’s 2018 and robots are taking selfies on Mars  

27 November 2018 18:42

NASA announced yesterday that they successfully landed a robot – the InSight Probe – on Mars after a nail-biting, seven-minute, 12,300 mph descent onto the surface. But the ‘robotic science platform’ has made it unscathed, and it sent a series of selfies (published by NASA) back down to Earth so that everyone was sure.

Mission control for the project, stationed at California Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), erupted into rounds of applause as the probed touched down exactly on cue at 19:53 GMT. The InSight Probe will now study the Red Planet’s deep interior and add to the scientific community’s knowledge of the solar system’s seventh largest planet. This will make Mars the second, after Earth, planet to be studied in this way.

James Bridenstine, NASA’s chief administrator, is happy with the success of the unmanned mission so far. He called yesterday ‘an amazing day’ and told the press converging on the scene that President Trump had congratulated him over the phone. Mike Watkins, the director of JPL, told reporters that he believes that missions like this remind people that ‘to do science, we have to be bold and we have to be explorers’.

NASA's InSight lands on Mars

InSight is currently sitting on a desolate flat land, called the Elysium Planitia, which sits close to the planet’s equator. Mission control jokingly refer to it as the ‘biggest parking lot on Mars’. One of the robot’s tasks is to take a number of pictures for scientists back home to study. The first image, depicting a fisheye view of its immediate surroundings, came back within minutes of the landing. It was quite smudged, but subsequent pictures that came back were much clearer.

The quality of the first image, taken through a translucent lens mounted on the underside of InSight, was compromised by the fact that dust was kicked up during the landing. It was still possible, however, to make out a small rock and the horizon. In the world of Insta filters and CGI reboots of Lion King, it would be easy to dismiss it as distinctly average imagery. But, no, think about it: This is unchartered and unexplored territory – it’s pretty damn cool.

The science platform may have managed to land on Mars’ surface without incident, snapped a few pics for the ‘gram, and successfully deployed the solar panels which will be used to generate power for the rest of the mission, but this is just the beginning. Now, it needs to make sure that it isn’t broken from the landing and then get down to drilling and seismic activity work. After all, the next lot of pics will be taken from deep inside the planet.