Sci-tech

Spacecraft set to be first to explore deep interior of red planet

Spacecraft set to be first to explore deep interior of red planet

In less time than it takes to hard-boil an egg, InSight will have to slowed from 12,300 miles per hour to 5 miles per hour before it gently lands on the surface of Mars.

Although an old pro at this, NASA last attempted a landing at Mars six years ago.

"We freefall for just a little bit, which is an absolutely terrifying thought for me", said Tom Hoffman, project manager of InSight.

The size of an SUV, InSight is created to explore the martian interior by sensing "marsquakes". Part of this is due to the thin Martian atmosphere, which is only 1 percent of Earth's, so there's nothing to slow down something trying to land on the surface.

Curiosity, Opportunity and Spirit have already provided scientists with a wealth of data on Mars from samples collected on the planet's surface, revealing the composition of its minerals and showing that the planet might have been capable of supporting life in the distant past.

Flight controllers announced that the robotic geologist, InSight, entered the Martian atmosphere Monday afternoon.

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Ten seconds after losing its heat shield, InSight will be extending its landing legs. Activate the radar. Jettison the back shell.

The parachute is expected to deploy at supersonic velocities, and it is hard or impossible to mathematically model the process completely or to test the process in a wind tunnel, Banerdt explained.

For the first time, a pair of interplanetary cubesats nicknamed "WALL-E" and "Eva" will relay signals from the landing in near-real time.

"A huge number of different operations have to be automatically programmed and achieved, and a very tiny difference in one of them could break something and make it immediately a failure", says French astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Bibring.

Within three and a half minutes of its first encounter with Mars atmosphere, InSight's chutes will deploy to slow the craft down. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment.

It's aiming for flat red plains, hopefully low on rocks.

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If you want to watch the mission as it unfolds, NASA will broadcast live proceedings on its website here. The NASA InSight spacecraft will try to land on Mars. A status report on the panels won't arrive until some 5 hours after landing.

"I am completely comfortable and completely nervous at the same time", he said. "After that, we should be in good shape".

"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.

InSight's primary instrument is a French-built seismometer, created to record the slightest vibrations from "marsquakes" and meteor impacts around the planet. Beginning at 2:00 pm EST on November 26, there will be landing commentary on the NASA TV Public Channel.

The instrument, mounted on the deck of the lander, will also give an indication if the core is liquid or solid.

You can expect to see a lot of interviews and background videos during the early part of the coverage, leading up to shots of anxious engineers milling around at JPL's Mission Control as the appointed time nears. The arm will then place a wind and heat shield on top of it like a bell jar.

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The heat probe, developed by German partners, will be deployed soon after.


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