NASA’s InSight attempts Mars landing after 6-month journey through space

Ismael LynchNov 27, 2018

It has spent the past 6 months uneventfully cruising through space, making occasional tweaks to its trajectory.

After that, the spacecraft turns, so its heat shield is pointing in the right direction. InSight will also send a "tone beacon" when it touches down on Mars, and again seven minutes later, but much more loudly. InSight will enter the planet's atmosphere at hypersonic speed, and must slow down quickly in order to make a gentle landing.

While it could end up meaning something very bad for the mission, at that early point, it could easily be that the lander is simply in "Safe Mode" - a state where the lander's computer has experience some kind of fault, and while it is sitting, safe on the surface, the computer needs to be diagnosed and reset before the mission can continue. This time around, InSight will rely on a heat shield, a parachute and a 12-thruster system developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne in Redmond, Wash. Ten seconds on, the lander's three legs deploy to get ready for touchdown.

The 789-lb lander will officially begin its descent to Mars at 7:40 pm UTC (2:40 pm EST) on Monday and touch down by 7:54 pm UTC. 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.

'That's one of our traditions, ' said lead engineer Rob Grover.

The landing will be streamed live on NASA's official YouTube presence.

This image made available by NASA shows the planet Mars.

There will be landing commentary and news briefings from scientists and engineers.

NASA handout shows illustration of simulated view of the In Sight probe about to land on Mars
NASA handout shows illustration of simulated view of the In Sight probe about to land on Mars

Since there is no joystick back on Earth for this spacecraft, and no way to intervene if anything goes wrong, Hoffman described his emotions as mixed.

If MarCO doesn't do the job, NASA should still hear a "beep" directly from InSight by 12:01 p.m. InSight represents NASA's ninth attempt to put a spacecraft on Mars; only one effort failed. A status report on the panels won't arrive until some 5 hours after landing.

"I am completely comfortable and completely nervous at the same time", he said. "After that, we should be in good shape".

NASA's top scientists admitted to sleepless nights, sweaty palms, stomach aches and moments of pure terror as their $993 million Mars Insight spacecraft approaches a high-drama finale Monday: landing on Mars. You can search for events taking place near your home here. "We don't want a rock underneath".

Here's what's supposed to happen: About 90 minutes before atmosphere entry, mission managers will send the latest tracking information to the probe, so it will know where it is and how fast it is traveling. The spacecraft will land on a (hopefully) flat surface and then try to bore a probe about 16 feet underground, as a way to measure the heat inside the planet's core, among other things. The station, developed by French partners, will catch rumbles of marsquakes, important for interpreting the planet's interior.

Nearly half of the attempts to land on Mars fail. The probe will detect how much heat energy is flowing out of the planet, and where the heat is coming from, expanding our knowledge of how the planet formed and evolved. But if there's only one ideal instrument site, the seismometer takes priority, Golombek says, as it is InSight's primary scientific payload.

But the US has pulled off seven successful Mars landings in the past three decades.

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