Look Out Mars, Here Comes InSight

InSight is scheduled to land at Elysium Planitia near the Martian equator on Monday. Video courtesy NASA

InSight is scheduled to land at Elysium Planitia near the Martian equator on Monday. Video courtesy NASA

The NASA Martian lander InSight dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars is seen in an undated artist's rendering. It was launched in May from California, and hurdled 301 million miles through space before reaching Mars.

NASA is attempting to land a spacecraft on the surface of Mars Monday to study the interior of the red planet. The angle of approach and speed are huge factors in ensuring a safe touchdown, and the roughly seven-minute window between InSight's entry into Mars' atmosphere and the actual touchdown are going to be incredibly tense.

A pair of briefcase-size satellites trailing InSight since liftoff in May will try to relay its radio signals to Earth, with a potential lag time of under nine minutes. Compared to other countries, the US has an impressive record of successfully landing on Mars seven times in 40 years and failing just once. "Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbor as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system". It's also taking over NY with the landing set to be shown on big screens in Times Square. Just how quickly you get details will depend on two cubesats (Mars Cube One) making a flyby and relaying InSight's data.

Enlarge / Entry, descent, and landing for the InSight spacecraft. NASA will use radio telescopes in Green Bank, West Virginia and also in Germany to listen out for radio signals from InSight. Because the entire landing sequence only takes six and a half minutes, the lander would already be on the ground by the time a signal from Earth arrived.

According to Christine Szalai from the EDL team at JPL mission control: EDL software update was sent to InSight yesterday to get the spacecraft's on-board computers all the last minute data it needs to get to the surface safely. You can watch a live feed of the control room above, beginning at 2:00 p.m. EST, with commentary including interviews with NASA engineers and scientists.

The device will begin to enter the planet's atmosphere around noon today, hurdling at a rate of over 12,000 miles per hour.

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"As it burns in the atmosphere, to slow down, it burns the heat shield, there will actually be a communications blackout, where the communications from the spacecraft will not be able to be received here on earth", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said. Up to now, the success rate at the red planet was only 40 percent, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landing by the U.S., Russian Federation and other countries since 1960. Unlike NASA's famous rovers Curiosity and Opportunity, InSight will remain in the exact place it lands.

It will then land on the smooth plains of Elysium Planitia.

It's been six years since NASA successfully landed the Curiosity rover on Mars. The InSight spacecraft was built near Denver by Lockheed Martin. Mission managers wanted a boring spot - they want the probe to sit quietly. Once InSight phones home from the Martian surface, though, he expects to behave much like his three young grandsons did at Thanksgiving dinner, running around like insane and screaming.

It will measure the degree to which Mars wobbles as it rotates to unlock secrets about the planet's core.

InSight will also deploy a seismometer to monitor earthquakes, which will also uncover information about the Red Planet's interior.

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