We’ve finally come across someone who can stick a landing better than, or at least as good as Olympic champion Simone Biles. OK, it’s not a human, but the Mars lander InSight’s performance earlier this week was more than worthy of a gold medal.
NASA’s InSight lander spent the bulk of this year racing through space toward Mars, finally arriving, passing through the planet’s thin atmosphere, deploying its parachute, then touching down on the Red Planet. Every sci-fi fan’s dream.
NASA streamed live video of Jet Propulsion Lab mission control room during scientists’ white-knuckle landing party, and the success made the men and women erupt in jubilation. Appropriately so, as this trip represents more than a decade of planning and preparation.
The payoff for all those years came a few hours later when InSight transmitted the first clear images of Mars, which look a lot like an Arizona desert at sunset during a summer dust storm. If you’ve seen that phenomenon, you know what we mean.
The TripTik readout on this travel adventure shows six months of space travel, covering 300 million total miles, marking the eighth successful landing on Mars since 1976. InSight joins NASA’s Curiosity rover, which touched down in 2012 and has been on the move ever since.
The Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena didn’t have all the touchdown fun. InSight has a host of local connections, which explains the landing parties throughout the Central Coast on Monday.
The folks at Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems in Goleta constructed InSight’s solar array system, designed to last at least two more years.
About 150 people gathered at Allan Hancock College’s Marian Theater, holding their breath in silence as InSight floated to the surface of Mars.
Cheers and boisterous applause shattered the silence and waiting at two watch parties in Lompoc as NASA’s InSight lander settled onto the surface. Lompoc definitely has a horse in this race, as InSight rode a giant rocket into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base early last May.
The Lompoc Valley has for years been a focal point for space exploration enthusiasts, and now with the private SpaceX operations using Vandenberg facilities, the fever is being rekindled.
The local love affair with space exploration is understandable, which also explains the multiple efforts to create a space center/museum/theme park. Private efforts to light that fire have been, literally, all over the place, but most have had a truly grand mission, but sputter after liftoff. In most cases it’s a matter of financing, or the lack thereof.
But it seems obvious the public’s fascination with space travel is alive and well, a fact proven once again by InSight’s successful launch from Vandenberg, months in transit, and the final settling in on the surface of Mars.
Maybe the space center notion could come to life as an educational effort, possibly involving the region’s colleges and universities. After all, you never know when the need to escape this planet for a haven out there will occur.
We have mentioned this many times in the past, but if you’re reading this online in another state or country, and you need to fill in some gaps in your bucket list, viewing a launch from VAFB is an absolute must. We’ve done our best to describe this experience over the years, having witnessed dozens of launches, but watching one of these behemoths roar into the heavens is an infinitely more powerful emotional experience than anything our words might convey.
Come to the Lompoc Valley, watch a launch from Vandenberg, and you will understand.