When will it land and why should we care — NASA's Insight Mission

Nasa's first spacecraft built to explore the deep interior of another world streaked toward a landing scheduled for Monday on Mars

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

On the surface, Mars is covered in red dust that is rich in iron oxide; this coating earned it the nickname "Red Planet".

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

"Once we get to the surface, InSight is a slow-motion mission", InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt, also of JPL, said during yesterday's news conference. Confirmation will be made through monitoring of InSight's radio signals by a variety of spacecraft and Earth-based telescopes.

A final correction maneuver was planned Sunday afternoon to slightly tweak InSight's trajectory and ensure an on-target landing on a broad plain known as Elysium Planitia.

For the NASA InSight Mars Lander to carry out its mission it needs to land in a still and quiet place. "Elysium Planitia is ideal".

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The landing itself is a tricky maneuver.

The three-legged InSight spacecraft reached the surface after going from 12,300 miles per hour to zero in six minutes flat, using a parachute and braking engines to slow down.

This was NASA's first attempt to land on Mars in six years, and all those involved are understandably anxious. Overall, Earth's success rate is just 40%.

The two satellites not only transmitted the good news in nearly real time, they also sent back InSight's first snapshot of Mars just 4½ minutes after landing. There will then be a post-landing news briefing no earlier than 2 p.m. PST/5 p.m. EST.

When it lands six-and-half minutes later, it will be travelling a mere 8kmh.

InSight is scheduled to touch down on Mars today (Nov. 26) at 3 p.m. ET, joining Mars' other robotic inhabitants: Curiosity, Opportunity and Spirit (though only Curiosity is now "live", sending signals back to Earth). Once slowed, it will jettison its heat shield and then its landing legs will unfold and lock into place. The entry, descent, and landing phases will each emit a slightly different radio frequency, enabling engineers to track InSight's progress. It will slow down until it reaches a consistent 5 miles per hour. It has the largest volcano in the solar system, but we don't yet know if it's dead and dormant or destined to erupt again.

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The InSight mission and landing is being run from two control rooms: one at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and another at Lockheed Martin in suburban Denver, Colorado.

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

InSight's 6-foot robotic arm will be used to place the instruments on the Martian surface, where they will be calibrated. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment. "But everything has to go perfectly, and Mars could always throw us a curveball".

An artist illustration of the InSight lander on Mars. Because it won't be roving over the surface, the landing site was an important determination. The thee-legged, one-armed InSight will operate from the same spot for the next two years. It's along the Martian equator, bright and warm enough to power the lander's solar array year-round.

Last week the space agency announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. Together, those instruments will take measurements of Mars' vital signs, like its pulse, temperature and reflexes - which translates to internal activity like seismology and the planet's wobble as the sun and its moons tug on Mars. The arrival marks the start of a two-year mission to study the heart of Mars-it will peer into the interior of the planet to provide scientists with a more detailed understanding of its crust, mantle and core. Still, this second largest volcanic region on Mars is an ideal place for InSight to land because of the science it is created to perform.

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