NASA spacecraft lands on Mars to dig deep

Gwen Vasquez
December 3, 2018

"Certainly, there are always a number of things that could go wrong", said Stu Spath, Lockheed Martin InSight program manager and director of Deep Space Exploration. InSight needs to navigate a potentially perilous journey through the Martian atmosphere to reach the surface.

"We've had many missions that have looked at the surface of Mars, but we're the first one that is really going to tell us about the interior of Mars", she said. "Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbour as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system". NASA will use the event as an opportunity for a live stream, and you can watch it all right here.

One of the watch parties is being held at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh. The entire process, from atmospheric entry to landing, will take only about seven minutes. Tricky from the lander's deck.

The Nasdaq building's massive seven-story screen will show the InSight landing in the middle of Manhattan on Monday.

It's far from a given that InSight will land safely.

"Indeed it is a heavenly plain, and it is very plain, but it is actually ideal", 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 Mars lander is created to study the "inner space" of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core.

While you might think that this is relatively straightforward, success rates for Mars landings are actually rather poor at only around 40%.

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.

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But the engineers prepared the spacecraft to land during a dust storm if need be.

Within minutes of landing, the NASA Mars InSight Lander transmitted it's very first image. Moving at over 20,000 km/h (13,000 mph), the ship will have to dive in at an angle of 12 degrees to avoid either burning up or skipping off the top of the atmosphere. Radio signals may be briefly lost.

Ten seconds after the heat shield falls away, InSight will extend its legs, much like an airplane extends its wheels before touching down.

- At 1951 GMT, the parachutes deploy. Then, it will touch down at 2:54 p.m. If all goes well, the craft will enter the atmosphere, deploy a chute and utilize retro-rockets to touch down on the red planet six minutes before 11 am Alaska time today.

After traveling almost 300 million miles, NASA's InSight mission is closing in on its scheduled rendezvous with the Red Planet.

Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of space missions.

The need for patience is necessary as it will take two to three months for InSight to set up its instruments, and another several weeks to position each and calibrate those instruments. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment.

PALCA: That's because it's a 6.5-minute ride to the surface, but it takes a radio signal longer than that to reach Mars, so real-time control is out of the question. That will be left to future rovers, such as NASA's Mars 2020 mission, which will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analyzed for evidence of ancient life.

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