‘Flawless’: NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey

Clark Diaz
November 27, 2018

"The landing is all completely automatic and autonomous", says Rob Grover, leader of the Entry, Descent and Landing team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

InSight was launched seven months ago, traveling 301,223,981 miles and reaching a top speed of 6,200 mph. Everyone sighed with relief, but today NASA is doing it all over again, only this time with the InSight lander.

Using a heat shield, parachutes and landing legs, InSight is expected to land at 3 p.m., EST, Monday.

It can take up to 20 minutes for the spacecraft's signals to reach Earth, leaving mission planners in limbo to find out if everything went according to plan.

Mars In Sight Landing
InSight will use rockets to stabilize the probe and set it gently on the martian 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". These two tiny CubeSats, each measuring under 15 inches (37 centimeters) along their longest side, will act as InSight's personal messengers, proving that CubeSats can fill this vital communications gap on future missions to Mars (and other planets).

This is an illustration showing a simulated view of NASA's InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars.

A NASA spacecraft is making a perilous supersonic descent through the atmosphere of Mars, following a six-month journey. Signals also could travel straight from InSight to radio telescopes in West Virginia and Germany. "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". Once it lands on Mars, it will stay put. It will fly through the Martian air at an initial speed of 12,300 miles per hour, and it must hit the atmosphere at an angle of precisely 12 degrees.

"The landing will kick off a two-year mission in which InSight will become the first spacecraft to study Mars' deep interior", NASA explained on its website. For the scientists and engineers who designed InSight, this is called "seven minutes of terror". This means there will be some delay between what is happening on the Red Planet and what we see on Earth. If they miss the connection, it could be hours before InSight's fate is known, based on telemetry from NASA's Mars orbiters. The mission includes two small cube satellites trailing the probe, which are created to help relay real-time data from the craft back to earth, faster than a NASA satellite orbiting Mars could.

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It is created to carry out its mission from a stationary position, and it is expected to land and set up shop in an area known as the Elysium Planitia, which JPL officials dubbed "the biggest parking lot on Mars", providing a flat solid surface for the craft to do its work.

Immediately after landing, InSight's very first act was to snap a picture of the landscape immediately in front of it.

So what do we know about the InSight robot, which is armed to the teeth with scientific instruments?

During that time, engineers will monitor the environment and photograph the terrain in front of the lander.

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What will InSight do on Mars?

A diagram of NASA's InSight Mars lander and its science instruments to look inside the Red Planet.

The heat probe, HP³, will drill nearly five metres beneath the surface of the planet after being deposited by InSight's robotic arm.

This will allow planetary scientists to determine the temperature of the planet much closer to the core, which in turn will tell us about how Mars and Earth were formed.

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