It isn’t pretty—nothing at all like the gallery of pictures that are sure to come. But just moments after landing—plus the eight minutes and seven seconds it takes for a radio signal to travel from Mars to Earth—the InSight spacecraft beamed home its first image from the Martian surface. InSight’s own Twitter feed explained the poor quality of the image: “My lens cover isn’t off yet, but I had to show you a first look at my new home.”
The dark flecks in the image that resemble nothing so much as bacteria on a microscope slide are dust and debris kicked up by the lander’s engines, clinging to the semi-transparent cover. A bit of the spacecraft itself—likely one of its three foot-pads—is visible at the center bottom. InSight is equipped with two cameras: the one that produced this picture is on the main body of the spacecraft and captures fish-eye images, which maximizes the field of vision for close-up work. The other, mounted on the robotic arm, is the one that will provide full-color panoramic imagery with a field of view of about 45 degrees.
What counts most at the moment though is that InSight is precisely where it’s supposed to be—on Mars’s Elysium plain, just north of the equator; and that it’s there precisely when it was supposed to be—205 days after its May 5 launch. The spacecraft covered 270 million miles from the coast of California to get where it was going and operated flawlessly throughout. America isn’t good at everything; but we’re very, very good at Mars—and that is, and very much ought to be, a source of national uplift.
Correction, Nov. 27: The original version of this story misstated the launch site of NASA’s InSight lander. It was California, not Florida.