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

This artist's concept shows the sky-crane maneuver during the descent of NASA's Mars 2020 rover

What time is NASA InSight landing on Mars today? So what should you know about the InSight robotic lander dubbed "the mole"? The company was the prime contractor in building InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It was launched in May from California, and hurdled 301 million miles through space before reaching Mars.

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

"I am completely excited and completely nervous, all at the same time", InSight project manager Tom Hoffman said yesterday (Nov. 25) during a news conference here at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

After a detailed photo survey of the surrounding terrain near the lander and repeated rehearsals on Earth, a robot arm on InSight's upper deck will be commanded to pick up both instruments and lower them to the surface.

An artist's conception shows NASA's Mars InSight firing its thrusters for landing.

This information will tell us a lot about how Mars formed, which, in turn, will add to the information of how rocky planets, including our own Earth, typically develop.

As InSight descends into the Martian atmosphere, it will send radio signals to give an indication of its position.

The U.S., however, has pulled off seven successful Mars landings in the past four decades, not counting InSight, with only one failed touchdown. This will be followed by a post-landing news conference, which is scheduled to take place at about 5 P.M. EST.

About 3½ minutes after the probe hits the atmosphere, a parachute will deploy, slowing down the probe even more. At 11:47 a.m., the spacecraft will begin its screaming plunge toward the surface; friction will send temperatures on the heat shield soaring to 1500°C. This intense heat could cause temporary dropouts in radio signals. "We have 12 small descent engines grouped around the bottom of the lander that are providing the thrust to slow us down the final kilometer".

InSight also is fitted with a German-made drill to burrow as much as 16 feet (5 metres) underground, pulling behind it a rope-like thermal probe to measure heat.

22 seconds later: The probe slows down to 5 miles per hour. Then, it will touch down at 2:54 pm ET.

"We have done everything we can think to make sure we are going to be successful, but you just never know what is going to happen".

NASA scientists chose InSight's landing zone, the vast and boring Elysium Planitia, because they're interested in Mars's interior, not its surface. "We have no ability to actually, kind of, fly the lander to the surface", Grover says. Almost two dozen other Mars missions have been sent from other nations. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment.

How hard is it to land on Mars? Unlike InSight, the MarCO spacecraft keep on going past Mars into space.

The site chosen for InSight is called Elysium Planitia.

The tone is important, and is one of a sequence that engineers on Earth will be listening for as InSight passes each landing milestone.

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