NASA's InSight Mars Lander Reaches Mars Today! Here's What to Expect


The 800-pound, solar-powered InSight is also the first deep-space vehicle to launch from the U.S. West Coast.

InSight was launched seven months ago, traveling 301,223,981 miles and reaching a top speed of 6,200 mph.

If all goes to plan, the first NASA lander to explore the interior of another planet will land on Mars at 3 p.m. ET Monday.

InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is based on 2008's Phoenix Lander, which itself used components left over from the cancelled Mars Surveyor 2001 lander.

"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.

"What this helps us understand is how we got to here", said JPL's Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator, during a pre-landing briefing with reporters last week. But before InSight sets to work, the craft must first survive a devilishly hard landing.

The odds are in NASA's favor, but it will be some time until the world finds out whether the landing is successful.

"Indeed it is a heavenly plain, and it is very plain, but it is actually flawless", InSight project manager Tom Hoffman said, "It's safe, it's a great place not only to land, it's a great place to do the science that we want to do".

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Of 43 other global attempts to send orbiters, probes, landers or rovers to Mars, 25 have not made it.

Everyone sighed with relief, but today NASA is doing it all over again, only this time with the InSight lander. MarCO will try to share data about InSight when it enters the Martian atmosphere for the landing.

The unmanned spacecraft launched almost seven months ago, and is NASA's first to attempt to touch down on Earth's neighboring planet since the Curiosity rover arrived in 2012.

"As it burns in the atmosphere, to slow down, it burns the heat shield, there will actually be a communications blackout, where the communications from the spacecraft will not be able to be received here on earth", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

"There is very little room for things to go wrong", said Mr Rob Grover, head of the entry, descent and landing team at the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (Nasa) Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This means there will be some delay between what is happening on the Red Planet and what we see on Earth. The entry, descent, and landing phases will each emit a slightly different radio frequency, enabling engineers to track InSight's progress. Almost two dozen other Mars missions have been sent from other nations.

Since then, the lander has been making its way patiently towards its drop zone on the plains of Mars' Elysium Planitia. And Tuesday night, the Mars Odyssey orbiter should confirm that the spacecraft's solar arrays have unfurled. This spot is open, flat safe and boring, which is what the scientists want for a stationary two-year mission.

- The first image from the surface of Mars is expected at 2004 GMT. It is also carrying a seismometer to monitor earthquakes, as Nasa attempts to answer "fundamental questions about the formation of Earth-like planets".

Experts hope the mission will be the first to unlock geological secrets of the planet's hidden core, using a probe to dig 16ft (5m) beneath the surface.