Dec. 20 (UPI) -- NASA's InSight lander has finally placed one of its instruments on the surface of Mars. The spacecraft laid the first seismometer in history on the Martian soil.
Since InSight landed on the Red Planet in late November, the spacecraft has been surveying its surroundings and performing systems checks to ensure everything is in working order. The preparations went smoothly.
"InSight's timetable of activities on Mars has gone better than we hoped," Tom Hoffman, mission project manager and scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a news release. "Getting the seismometer safely on the ground is an awesome Christmas present."
As InSight has prepared for the deployment of its two main external instruments, one of its internal instruments has been studying the Martian core. Data collected by the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment could produce scientific results within a year.
All of the InSight's instruments are dedicated to better understanding the structure of Mars' interior.
InSight placed the seismometer flush against the Martian surface, as far away from the spacecraft as its robotic arm can reach.
For the next two years, InSight will stay perfectly still while the domed instrument listens to the seismic waves traveling through Mars. The patterns of different seismic waves can reveal details about Mars' insides. An improved understanding of Mars' inner structure could ultimately offer insights into the Red Planet's origins and evolution.
"Seismometer deployment is as important as landing InSight on Mars," said Bruce Banerdt, mission principal investigator at JPL. "The seismometer is the highest-priority instrument on InSight: We need it in order to complete about three-quarters of our science objectives."
If the seismometer performs optimally in the coming weeks and no problems arise, mission scientists plan to deploy the spacecraft's 16-foot heat probe in late January.