Speeding faster than a bullet at 12,300 miles (19,800 kilometers) an hour, the heat-shielded spacecraft encountered scorching friction as it entered the Mars atmosphere.
Flight controllers were relieved to find out promptly that Insight made it to the surface and didn't burn up in the atmosphere or bounce off it. A focused quiet fell over the crowd at JPL as everyone waited for signals confirming that InSight had made it through a series of crucial steps. Mission control erupted into cheers as Insight hit the Elysium Planitia, and NASA cameras captured two scientists doing a truly wonderful celebration handshake that rivals anything in the National Basketball Association.
Starting in January, the InSight mission will seek to answer critical questions about rocky planet formation in the early days of the solar system.
In addition to the InSight telemetry, one of the cubesats, MarCO-B, returned an image of Mars taken shortly after the landing, as the spacecraft was passing 6,000 kilometers from the planet. Still, the team members - all clad in burgundy shirts emblazoned with the InSight logo - watched with rapt attention.
Germany is in charge of InSight's mole, while France is in charge of the seismometer.
Seconds later, InSight informed the MarCOs that its radar found the ground, again prompting reserved clapping in mission control. "The success of these two unique missions is a tribute to the hundreds of talented engineers and scientists who put their genius and labor into making this a great day".
"This is really good news", said Rob Manning, JPL's chief engineer.
Sight during landing. Image credit NASA
"Here's a quick-and-dirty attempt at processing out distortion in the first image from InSight", Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor at the Planetary Society, wrote on Twitter. He added: "This never gets old".
He said that it was hard to tell from the first photo whether there were any slopes nearby, but that it appeared he got the flat, smooth "parking lot" he was hoping for.
The three-legged InSight settled on the western side of Elysium Planitia, the plain that NASA was aiming for.
One NASA worker shot to the head of the class with his classy hat.
Key to InSight's continued survival on the harsh surface of Mars is the deployment of its solar panels, which were stowed for the descent.
But not the scientists and engineers working on the mission.
"While most of the country was enjoying Thanksgiving with their family and friends, the InSight team was busy making the final preparations for Monday's landing", said Tom Hoffman of JPL, InSight's project manager.
But just getting those instruments in place will take several months, as NASA scientists will first need to assess the health of the spacecraft and the area where it landed.
The unmanned probe, which was built by Lockheed Martin, will dig deeper into the planet than anything that's come before.
InSight has another trick to decipher what's inside Mars, but it needs a little help from the Deep Space Network (DSN) -radio antennae on Earth that maintain contact with robotic space missions throughout the solar system.