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NASA spacecraft on Mars sends home glamor shots — with a Central Coast connection

Anxiety, elation: NASA scientists erupt in cheers as spacecraft lands on Mars

NASA InSight rover successfully landed on the planet Mars on November 26, 2018.
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NASA InSight rover successfully landed on the planet Mars on November 26, 2018.

Even Mars isn’t safe from selfies.

NASA’s newest Mars lander, InSight, sent home a “selfie” that also served as a glamor shot showing off the spacecraft’s two-Goleta made solar arrays.

The newest image stems from a camera on InSight’s robotic arm leading to a selfie, which actually involved a mosaic using 11 images stitched together.

Visible in the selfie are the lander’s solar panel and its entire deck, including its science instruments, for InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

The solar arrays were manufactured at the Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems facility in Goleta.

Earlier, NASA released another image showing one of InSight’s 7-foot-wide solar panels that was captures by a camera fixed to the elbow of the lander’s robotic arm.

Northrop Grumman Program Manager Jim Spink said the images showing the solar arrays created by his team have prompted a lot of comments from co-workers and friends.

“Everyone is thrilled to see pictures of our solar array hardware built here in Goleta on the surface of Mars,” Spink said. “They’re so dusty with Martian dust, which is a bit ironic considering they were carefully assembled in a clean room.

“But they’re performing exactly as expected, and we couldn’t be more pleased.”

A second image, another mosaic featuring 52 pictures, provided a peek at the “workspace” for InSight. This image will aid scientists and engineers as they undertake the painstaking process of deciding where in this area the spacecraft’s instruments should be placed.

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 have said they want to avoid setting them on rocks larger than about a one-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 in Pasadena. “This might seem like a pretty plain piece of ground if it weren’t on Mars, but we’re glad to see that.”

Scientists hope InSight provides details about the deep interior of Mars, information they hope to use to learn more about Earth.

Specifically, the InSight primary instruments — a seismometer and a heat-flow probe — will collect data about the interior of the planet by studying marsquakes and planet’s temperature.

Scientists also were excited that the spacecraft’s sensors captured a haunting low rumble caused by vibrations from wind, estimated at 10 to 15 mph.

“Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat,” Banerdt said. “But one of the things our mission is dedicated to is measuring motion on Mars, and naturally that includes motion caused by sound waves.”

InSight’s journey to Mars began on a foggy May 5, when a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carried the craft to space. The spacecraft touched down on Mars on Nov. 26, and is expected to operate nearly two years in Earth time or one year on Mars.

Mars selfie.jpg
This is NASA InSight’s first full selfie on Mars. It displays the lander’s solar panels, made in Goleta, and deck. On top of the deck are its science instruments, weather sensor booms and UHF antenna. NASA

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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