Six Minutes of Terror

Audrey Hill
November 27, 2018

The EDL team worked for months beforehand to pre-program every stage of InSight's landing, making adjustments based on weather reports from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

When it reaches the Red Planet, the probe will have traveled 301,223,981 miles at a top speed of 6,200 mph, according to NASA.

It is NASA's first attempt to land on Mars in six years, and anxiety is building.

There will not be any live video streaming of Mars Insight's approach on Monday, and signals will be transmitted back to Earth on an eight-minute delay. "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". By putting the equipment in direct contact with Martian dirt, scientists expect to avoid the issues experienced by the 1970s Viking landers, where seismometers on the lander picked up vibrations from the spacecraft itself rather than from the planet.

But the real action, at least on Earth, will unfold at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home to InSight's flight control team.

"We continue to flawless landing techniques using robotic landers on Mars", Clarke said.

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"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. The lander has three main scientific instruments: the shielded seismometer that Curiosity tweeted about, a "mole" that's created to burrow down as far as 15 feet and take Mars' temperature below ground, and a radio transponder that can make precise measurements of Mars' movements.

Everyone sighed with relief, but today NASA is doing it all over again, only this time with the InSight lander. Another signal will be sent seven minutes later, this time using a more powerful antenna and transmitting information to indicate if the craft is in a "healthy, functioning state". They will also provide additional landing data and telemetry for engineers to analyze after the fact, aimed at improving future missions' shots at successfully touching down on Mars. To successfully land, Insight must go from about about 12,300 miles per hour to 0 in around six minutes. Up to now, the success rate at the red planet was only 40 percent, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landing by the U.S., Russian Federation and other countries since 1960. The hope is that its protective covering will keep it safe from heat friction and sandstorms as the InSight comes to screeching halt while landing. This is when the intense heat caused a temporary drop in the radio signal from the craft. Then, the descent engines, known as retrorockets, begin to fire.

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

InSight is scheduled to land at Elysium Planitia near the Martian equator on Monday. Unlike InSight, the MarCO spacecraft keep on going past Mars into space. Mission managers wanted a boring spot - they want the probe to sit quietly. But InSight is expected to yield the first meaningful data on planetary seismic tremors beyond Earth.

InSight will spend 24 months - about one Martian year - using seismic monitoring and underground temperature readings to unlock mysteries about how Mars formed and, by extension, the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets of the inner solar system.

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Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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