NASA's new Mars spacecraft took its first selfie on the Red Planet.
The InSight spacecraft, which landed on the flat equatorial plain Elysium Planitia on Nov. 26, pulled the selfie using the camera on its 1.8 meter robotic arm. The photo is a composite of 11 separate images, NASA officials said.
"This is the same imaging process used by NASA's Curiosity Rover mission, where many overlapping photos are taken and then stitched together," the officials said in a statement describing the image, which was released today (Dec. 11). "Visible in selfie are the probe's solar panel and all its deck, including its scientific instruments." [NASA’s InSight Mars Lander: Amazing Landing Day Photos!]
These instruments include a self-digging thermal probe and an incredibly sensitive set of seismographs, both of which must be placed directly on the red earth by the InSight arm. Such a maneuver has never been done before; all previous Mars robots carried their scientific equipment on their bodies and / or arms.
It is crucial for InSight to get the correct placement so that members of the mission team have carefully characterized the red dirt on the probe feet. And there's good news in that regard: the workspace looks very flexible, as shown by more recently released InSight images.
"The near absence of rocks, hills and holes means it will be extremely safe for our instruments," said Bruce Banerdt, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., In the same statement. "This may seem like a very simple piece of land if it were not on Mars, but we were glad to see it."
In fact, it seems that InSight landed inside an impact crater that later became filled with sand, NASA officials said. The soft soil should facilitate the digging of the heat probe, which is designed to be between 3 to 5 meters deep.
The workspace photo is also a compound, which combines 52 individual images, NASA officials said.
The InSight mission, worth $ 850 million, was launched in May, along with two floating Cubans called MarCO-A and MarCO-B. The last two vessels became the first Cuban cubes to explore interplanetary space, and also transmitted InSight's homemade data during the landing of the spacecraft on 26 November.
The main goal of InSight is to map the interior of Mars in unprecedented detail, helping scientists better understand the composition and structure of the planet. Such information should clarify the formation of rocky planets in general, according to NASA officials.
Soon after landing, mission team members said they probably would not be ready to deploy the heat probe and seismic suite until January or February. The InSight mission is scheduled to last a year on Mars, which is almost two years on Earth.
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