PASADENA, Calif. — When NASA's InSight lander crossed that final yard line on its drive to Mars yesterday, there were cheers, tears, hugs and handshakes to mark the successful landing.
But did you see the touchdown dance? Blink and you might miss it in the video replay. That hand-slapping, fist-bumping, high-fiving dance? Yeah, it happened. And it's adorable!
"It's actually a touchdown celebration," said Gene Bonfiglio, one of two NASA entry, descent and landing systems engineers who captured our hearts with the Mars landing dance. He threw his hands up in the air like a football referee. "You know, like, 'Touchdown!'" [NASA's InSight Mars Lander: Full Coverage]
"Like in the NFL," added Brooke Harper, who performed the dance with Bonfiglio. "We thought it was very fitting to have a touchdown celebration for an official touchdown of the lander on Mars."
And fitting it was. When the signal confirming the InSight lander's safe touchdown on Mars reached NASA's mission control center at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory here Monday (Nov. 26), Bonfiglio and Harper rose from their seats at one of three long rows of consoles and launched into their routine.
It was a touchdown dance, so it's not surprising that the engineers were inspired while watching NFL games.
"We're just both football fans," Bonfiglio told Space.com. He's a New England Patriots fan. Harper roots for the Kansas City Chiefs. "And we give each other hard times about that," Bonfiglio said.
Bonfiglio and Harper decided to do the dance months ago, while InSight was still cruising toward Mars. But what kind of dance should they do?
Then Bonfiglio saw some football fans perform the dance on TV. His wife loved it. His son, too. And lo, the Mars InSight touchdown celebration was born.
The two engineers practiced for weeks to help InSight celebrate its big day. And yes, there was some concern about jinxing the landing by pre-planning for success.
"We have our little superstitions, just like everyone does," Harper said. "For myself, I definitely had some reservations. But I had confidence in our teams and our spacecraft. And we nailed it."
And like InSight nailed its landing, Bonfiglio and Harper nailed their celebratory dance. The rest, as they say, is history.
NASA's InSight Mars lander launched to the Red Planet in May and will spend about two Earth years (about the length of one Mars year) studying the Martian interior with a suite of seismometers, a heat probe and other instruments. Scientists hope the $850 million mission will help them better understand how Mars formed, and answer questions about the formation of other rocky, terrestrial planets.