USA spacecraft successfully touches down on Mars

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The spacecraft is the first created to explore the deep interior of another world. It launched May 5.

Mars and Earth were very similar - warm, wet and shrouded in thick atmospheres - before they took different paths 3-4 billion years ago. The thee-legged, one-armed InSight will operate from the same spot for the next two years.

Congratulations flooded into the space agency following the success, including from Mike Pence, the United States vice president, who celebrated the "incredible milestone" of the country's eighth successful landing on Mars.

Like all previous landing attempts at Mars, Insight's race to the surface - the first attempt since 2012 - was a tense affair.

A few minutes after landing, InSight sent the official "beep" to NASA to signal that it was alive and well, including a photo of the Martian surface where it landed.

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The InSight lander touched down on Mars just before 8pm GMT, surviving the so-called "seven minutes of terror" - a tricky landing phase for the robotic probe, travelling at 13,200mph through the planet's thin atmosphere which provides little friction to slow down. Project manager Tom Hoffman said the spacecraft landed close to the bull's-eye, but NASA did not have yet have the final calculations.

You can see more fantastic InSight Mars landing day photos here.

Tweeting right after landing InSight offered the following eerie words from the alien world: "I feel you Mars ... and soon I'll know your heart". Up to now, the success rate at the red planet has been only 40%, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landing by the US, Russia and other countries since 1960. Minutes after landing, InSight transmitted its first color image from Mars, via the MarCO relay, showing a bleak landscape through a veneer of dust that had accumulated on its camera's protective cover.

Then, the parachute will deploy, the craft will separate from the heat shield, deploy its three legs and activate radar to sense how far it is from the ground.

"The reason why we're digging into Mars is to better understand not just Mars, but the Earth itself", said JPL's Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator.

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"The next two months will really be the action-packed months", said Renee Weber, a member of the InSight science team at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "We can take a smaller, focused, more riskier mission out into the solar system and take advantage of new opportunities". InSight is now sitting on Elysium Planitia, a plot of land near the Gale crater, near the equator, and has beamed back its first snap to show it's alive. They actually have a radio transmitter attached to this spacecraft that will be able to determine how the planet wobbles.

Until now, all Mars missions have focused on the planet's surface and atmosphere.

InSight, which stands for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport", is a stationary science platform with a suite of instrumentation that will work in concert to give the planet an "ultrasound".

"We can now look forward to the deployment of the instrument and the data that will start to arrive in the new year, to improve our understanding of how the planet formed".

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