NASA's InSight probe lands on Mars

InSight Touchdown

NASA's first robotic lander created to study the deep interior of a distant world hurtled closer to Mars on course for a planned touchdown on Monday after a six-month voyage through space.

These are predictions for the details of InSight's landing that project managers made several weeks ago.

You can stay up to date on InSight's status by checking the mission's Landing Status page, as well as by tuning in to NASA's live coverage on NASA TV. Having launched on May 5, 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as it enters the atmosphere of Mars, InSight will be traveling at 14,100 miles per hour. Any shallower, and the probe will bounce off into deep space. "About two hours before hitting the atmosphere, the entry, descent and landing (EDL) team might also upload some final tweaks to the algorithm that guides the spacecraft safely to the surface". "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".

The landing itself is a tricky maneuver.

If all goes according to plan, it will drop onto the equatorial plain called Elysium Planitia at about 5 miles per hour - but scientists won't know if its solar panels will have deployed until about 8:35 p.m. EST, when NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will be in position to relay data to Earth.

After that, NASA hopes to use InSight to decode the internal structure of Mars, among other mysteries.

The Lander had originally been scheduled to blast off in March 2016, but NASA suspended its launch preparations when a vacuum leak was found in the craft's prime science instrument. "Landing on Mars is hard and takes a lot of personal sacrifices, such as missing the traditional Thanksgiving, but making InSight successful is well worth the extraordinary effort". Overall, Earth's success rate is just 40%.

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Half a second later: The lander's retrorockets (or descent engines) fire up.

"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.

In ballet-like fashion, InSight will do a gravity turn to make sure the lander is in the right position before touching down. The probe will first touch the atmosphere six minutes and 45 seconds before landing. Then, it will touch down at 2:54 pm ET. "But for our perspective here on earth, we're not going to know it".

The InSight is carrying two main science instruments - a burrowing heat probe and a trio of highly sensitive seismometers - to help mission scientists map the Martian insides in unprecedented detail over the next two Earth years, according to Space.com.

"We can't joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-program into the spacecraft".

What will InSight do on Mars?

Instead, the stationary 800-pound (360-kilogram) lander will use its 6-foot (1.8-meter) robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground. The lander component initially looks a fair bit like the re-entry capsule used in the 1960s and 1970s for the Apollo moon missions - sort of conical, with a smooth and flat bottom. There have been 44 attempts by various national space agencies to land on Mars. The InSight spacecraft was built near Denver by Lockheed Martin.

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