It is a busy time for NASA, and when the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the agency celebrated the successful landing of the InSight Mars Lander today (Nov. 26), agency administrator Jim Bridenstine is focused on the future.
Bridenstine shared a few words from the busy control center of the mission as she left the celebrations to talk to NASA TV.
"I will tell you, it was intense and you could feel the emotion", Bridenstine told Gay Yee Hill, a spokesman for JPL, during the landing webcast. "It was very, very quiet when it was time to be quiet and, of course, very festive with every little bit of new information that was received.It is very different to be here than to watch it on TV, by far. especially now that I have experienced both. " [NASA’s InSight Mars Lander: Amazing Landing Day Photos!]
Bridenstine added that just after the landing was confirmed, he was called by a number that "with all zeros" on his phone. It turned out to be Mike Pence, the American vice president, who congratulated the team. Pence is also chairman of the National Space Council.
congratulations for @NASA, @Lockheed Martin, @ulalaunch, & everyone who made today @NASAInSight #MarsLanding possible! This is the 8th time the US landed on Mars and the 1st mission to study its deep interior. Incredible milestone! https://t.co/plgJch3Vpc
– Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) November 26, 2018
The successful landing of InSight after a journey of almost seven months is extremely important for Mars scientists, who now have a tool to probe deeper into the planet than ever before. After the solar panels have been successfully implemented, the lander scans under the surface of the planet and measures meteor impacts and other seismic activity to learn more about the inner structure of Mars. Researchers said during the webcast that the first scientific data should appear around March 2019.
Looking ahead to the future of the agency, Bridenstine rammed a long list of upcoming events for NASA: an American astronaut launches the international space station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on December 3, the first scientific data from the Parker Solar Probe come back December 7 and OSIRIS-REx reaches the asteroid Bennu by the end of December.
Then, on January 1st, the probe of New Horizons that flew through Pluto in July 2015 will reach the distant solar system object Ultima Thule and return images taken a short distance from the incredibly distant object.
"Do you ask what happens next?" Bridenstine said. "At the moment there is probably more going on at NASA than [since] I do not know how many years ago. It is as if there is a drought and suddenly all of these activities at the same time. So we are busy. We are going to work through the holidays – many amazing discoveries are still being made and we are looking forward to it. "
Coming back to InSight, Bridenstine added that everything we know about Mars, such as whether the water is below its surface, will help people to eventually visit and use resources on the planet. He added that the current guideline of the agency is to send people back to the moon first – that "we must use the moon as a test field to accelerate our path to Mars" – but that "in the meantime we are doing missions such as InSight to learn as much as possible about Mars. "
At a press conference later in the day, Bridenstine talked extensively about NASA's moon exploration plans, but again stressed that Mars was on the horizon.
"We prove the ability and technology to go to Mars even faster than we could if we did not use the moon as a tool," Bridenstine said. "The reality is, yes, that your country is now very committed to traveling to Mars, and using the moon as a tool to reach that goal as quickly as possible."