NASA Spacecraft To Endure '7 Minutes of Terror' In Mars Landing

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

A full-scale replica of NASA's Mars InSight

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are preparing for the spacecraft to enter the Martian atmosphere, descend with a parachute and retrorockets, and touch down today at around 3 p.m. EST (12 p.m. PST, 8 p.m. GMT).

The U.S., however, has pulled off seven successful Mars landings in the past four decades, not counting InSight, with only one failed touchdown.

At this crucial time the probe will break through the thin Martian atmosphere with its heat shield first, and then use a parachute to slow down. The entry, descent, and landing phases will each emit a slightly different radio frequency, enabling engineers to track InSight's progress.

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry", said Dr. Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

The mission control team at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles hopes to receive real-time confirmation of the craft's arrival from data relayed by a pair of miniature satellites that were launched along with InSight and will be flying past Mars.

On the surface, Mars is covered in red dust that is rich in iron oxide; this coating earned it the nickname "Red Planet". Since then, the lander has been making its way patiently towards its drop zone on the plains of Mars' Elysium Planitia.

Like SEIS, though, this instrument is also now stowed on the lander deck.

InSight will be travelling at 12,300 miles per hour when it makes initial contact with the atmosphere at an angle of precisely 12 degrees. It's sure to be very tense for the team at NASA.

This was NASA's first attempt to land on Mars in six years, and all those involved are understandably anxious.

At 3:01 pm ET, InSight should send a signal to let scientists on Earth know that it's alive and well.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, presiding over his first Mars landing as the space agency's boss, said: "What an awesome day for our country". It's also taking over NY with the landing set to be shown on big screens in Times Square.

The seismometer "is really the heart of the InSight mission", Banerdt said.

It will take two to three months for InSight's robotic arm to set the mission's instruments on the surface. By exploring Mars, InSight will also give us new insights into how the Earth and Moon formed.

Flight controllers announced that the spacecraft InSight touched down Monday, after a perilous supersonic descent through the red Martian skies.

Meanwhile, a radio transmitter will send back signals tracking Mars' subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet's core and possibly whether it remains molten.

The $1 billion global mission features a German-led mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure the planet's internal heat. Built by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, InSight will measure the frequency and intensity of Marsquakes, with mission scientists expecting to see between 12 and 100 Marsquakes during the two-year mission. "Once InSight is settled on the Red Planet and its instruments are deployed, it will start collecting valuable information about the structure of Mars' deep interior - information that will help us understand the formation and evolution of all rocky planets, including the one we call home".

Next up is NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which is modeled on Curiosity and planned to launch in summer 2021 for a February 2021 landing.

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