NASA's InSight Mars Landing: a Nail-Biting '6.5 Minutes of Terror'

NASA's In Sight Mars Landing a Nail Biting'6.5 Minutes of Terror

NASA's In Sight Mars Landing a Nail Biting'6.5 Minutes of Terror

InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the 21st US -launched mission to Mars. Due to reach the Red Planet's surface just before 11:53 a.m. PST/2:43 p.m. EST today, InSight will attempt to land using a parachute and retrorockets. The device, to be placed on the surface by the lander's robot arm, is so sensitive it can measure a seismic wave just one half the radius of a hydrogen atom.

This is going to be tense.

"Indeed it is a heavenly plain, and it is very plain, but it is actually flawless", InSight project manager Tom Hoffman said, "It's safe, it's a great place not only to land, it's a great place to do the science that we want to do".

The odds are in NASA's favor, but it will be some time until the world finds out whether the landing is successful.

About 20 minutes before landing, InSight separated from the cruise stage that helped bring it all the way to Mars and turned to position itself for entering the atmosphere. However, a high-speed crash remains a risk.

This is an image taken by an engineering model of NASA's InSight lander during a rehearsal for instrument deployment in a Mars-like testbed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. It will only be a series of tones that they send back - the simplest form of information, so the lander can keep focus on its primary job of getting to the surface intact - but the engineers here know how to interpret the meaning of those tones.

Viewing parties are planned coast to coast at museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as in France, where InSight's seismometer was designed and built.

NASA's InSight spacecraft to attempt to land on Mars on November 26.

The lander will emit signals to on Earth, some 91 million miles away, to tell us if it successfully landed. "We have 12 small descent engines grouped around the bottom of the lander that are providing the thrust to slow us down the final kilometer". Another signal will be sent seven minutes later, this time using a more powerful antenna and transmitting information to indicate if the craft is in a "healthy, functioning state". The cubesats are a NASA experiment to determine methods of speedier signal transmissions to and from Mars.

"Landing on Mars is hard".

The JPL controllers also expect to receive a photograph of the probe's new surroundings on the flat, smooth Martian plain close to the planet's equator called the Elysium Planitia. However, dust storms are common in this area. 'We've had a number of successful landings in a row now. This is because the powered descent mode that InSight will employ has been tested before, a decade ago with the Phoenix lander.

The InSight mission cost about $814 million, including the launch costs; France and Germany invested about $180 million.

InSight is created to detect Marsquakes.

The planetary know-how gained from InSight's $1 billion, two-year operation could even spill over to rocky worlds beyond our solar system, according to Banerdt. The seismic data collected by InSight will also be used to figure how Mars was formed, and reveal much about its internal structure, which geologists know very little about.

NASA last lost a craft during entry in December 2009 when the 600-pound Mars Polar Lander careened into the surface at about 50 miles per hour, also due to a software error, because the lander's descent engines shut down too soon.

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