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Why NASA's InSight landing is a triumph of human achievement

NASA's landing on Mars this week was the result of years of work and insanely impressive mathematics, all distilled into a few gripping minutes.

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NASA engineers Kris Bruvold (left) and Sandy Krasner celebrate after the InSight lander safely touched down on Mars. 

Al Seib/AFP/Getty Images

Just 50 years ago, landing on another planet was a pipe dream. These days, it feels like we could pop over there for a cup of tea. 

Half a century after they astronauts landed on the moon, NASA scientists showed how far they've come when they landed the InSight spacecraft on Mars this week. And unlike the moon landing, they completed the most difficult part of the mission -- the speedy descent through the atmosphere, the deployment of a parachute and lander legs and the touchdown on the surface -- with their hands off the controls. 

In this week's episode of Watch This Space, we examine what went into getting InSight onto Mars. We also marvel at the "seven minutes of terror" -- the time between first hitting the planet's atmosphere to the moment of safe landing -- and how NASA did it without any real-time input from Earth. 

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From the complex calculations to the precise commands that had to be pre-programmed into the spacecraft, InSight was a triumph of human achievement and a sign of just how much we've advanced in space travel. And we're just getting started.

But beyond all the machinery and mathematics, the highlight of the landing was the human side. There's nothing better than watching a lifetime of work come down to a few seconds, and seeing the world's smartest people weep in anticipation or celebrate with the perfect handshake. 

For more on the InSight mission, check out Episode 8 of Watch This Space, which takes a look at the science behind the mission and what NASA hopes to discover by drilling into the red planet. And don't forget, you can check out the full Watch This Space series on YouTube.

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