• A crowd of people cheer as the first image of the surface of Mars is sent from the InSight lander after its successful landing on the planet Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, during a watch party at the Cosmosphere. [Sandra J. Milburn/HutchNews]

  • Michael Staab, rocket scientist with NASA\'s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and former Cosmosphere space camper, celebrates as he hears confirmation that the InSight lander has safely landed on the surface of Mars on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, during a watch party at the Cosmosphere. [Sandra J. Milburn/HutchNews]

  • An image on a screen during a watch party at the Cosmosphere shows Mars InSight team members looking at the first photo sent by the InSight lander from the surface of Mars, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, at NASA\'s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. [Sandra J. Milburn/HutchNews]

  • A computer screen shows the live feed from NASA\'s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, as Mars InSight team members celebrate the InSight lander\'s safe landing on the surface of Mars, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, during a watch party at the Comsphere. [Sandra J. Milburn/HutchNews]

  • Michael Staab, a rocket scientist with NASA\'s Jet Propulsion Lab, hands out InSight peanuts to Katrina Drummond and others before the confirmation of InSight lander\'s safe landing on Mars Monday. A tradition in NASA\'s Mission Support Area is to pass around peanuts as good luck. [Sandra J. Milburn/HutchNews]

  • A screen image during a watch party at the Cosmosphere shows Mars InSight team members celebrating as they get confirmation that the InSight lander safely landed on the surface of Mars, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, at NASA\'s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. [Sandra J. Milburn/HutchNews]

  • During a watch party at the Cosmosphere Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, a screen shows the projection of an artist\'s rendering of the Mars InSight lander putting a piece of equipment onto the surface of Mars. The watch party was from noon to 2 p.m. and Michael Staab, a former Cosmosphere space camper and current rocket scientist with NASA, gave details on the eight years of work it took to get InSight onto the surface of Mars. [Sandra J. Milburn/HutchNews]

InSight Mars landing begins historic week at Cosmosphere

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Cosmosphere is watching its role in the past, present and future of space exploration play out spectacularly this week.

It began with about 100 people gathered at the space museum in Hutchinson to watch Monday's historic Mars landing of InSight, narrated in person by rocket scientist Michael Staab of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The week will culminate with engineers and astronauts from NASA's past with Saturday's Earthrising gala event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8's first trip around the moon.

"This week is awe inspiring to say the least," said Jim Remar, Cosmosphere president and chief executive officer. "We are celebrating the historic flight of Apollo 8 this weekend, and today we witnessed the future of space exploration with the InSight landing. And to watch it with someone from JPL talking us through it is just an exceptional experience."

Staab punched his fist into the air watching confirmation of the InSight landing on a live stream at the Cosmosphere, one of dozens of watch parties around the world and the only one in Kansas

"This represents eight years of work, and it all comes down to 6 1/2 minutes," said Staab, who went to aerospace camps at the Cosmosphere before embarking on a career with NASA. "Thousands of things have to happen, all at the right time."

"We call it the 7 minutes of terror," Staab told the crowd before the InSight Lander would touch down an hour later. "Landing on Mars is always dangerous."

The InSight Lander lifted off May 5 from California, the first NASA launch on the West Coast, and signaled a successful landing at 1:52:59 p.m. CST Monday. The lander touched down on the western side of a flat, smooth expanse of lava called Elysium Planitia near the Mars' equator.

NASA mission control engineers watched the landing sequence with the aid of two experimental spacecraft, called Mars Cube One CubeSats. The small satellites, the first to venture into deep space, flew to Mars with InSight.

As Staab explained, the CubeSats transmit UHF signals to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been watching Mars since 2016. The orbiter then sent signals back to earth on the X band radio frequency.

There was about an 8-minute lag between the time InSight touched down and confirmation to JPL.

The robotic InSight enables NASA to measure seismic activity and reverberations of meteor strikes. If all works properly, it will include a spring-powered hammer drilling 15 feet into Mars' surface to take readings below the planet's surface.

"Mars is very much like earth," said Staab, who operated the Cassini aircraft around Saturn last year. "We want to learn what Mars is like today and get a glimpse of what the earth may become."

The measurements are much like what human astronauts took from the surface of the moon some 50 years ago.

"In many ways, we're using Apollo-era technology on Mars," said Staab, currently working on his PhD in astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California.

Apollo astronauts and mission control engineers will talk about those missions on Saturday at the Earthrising Gala at the Kansas State Fairgrounds.

Those scheduled to appear include Jim Lovell, Fred Hais, Charlie Duke, Milt Windler, Gerry Griffin and Jerry Bostick.

General admission tickets are still available for the event at the Kansas State Fairgrounds.

Staab, who grew up in Wichita, will be staying in Kansas to attend Saturday's event.

"It's the first vacation I've had in years," Staab said, smiling.