Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Everything You Need to Know About Streaming NASA’s Mars Landing Today

NASA Landing Pia Courtesy of NASA
Sherry Houston | 27 November, 2018, 04:36

This is an illustration showing a simulated view of NASA's InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars.

Only 40% of missions sent to the Red Planet by any agency have been successful. And touchdown will occur a mere 6.5 minutes after InSight gets its first taste of Mars air.

"Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration", noted InSight's lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt.

InSight is expected to touch down at 2.54pm ET, but we won't know until seven minutes later - given the time it takes for messages to transmit from Mars to Earth - if the landing was successful.

Flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, leaped out of their chairs, screaming, dancing and hugging, upon learning that InSight had arrived on Mars, the graveyard for a multitude of previous missions. (And also less than the 8 minutes it takes for communication to reach Earth from Mars; all times in this story reflect the arrival of InSight's signal.) Based on NASA's Phoenix spacecraft, which landed in 2008, InSight uses retrorockets to slow the craft directly, rather than a "sky crane" to lower itself like Curiosity. This is when the intense heat could cause temporary drops in the radio signal from the craft.

The robotic geologist - created to explore Mars' mysterious insides - must go from 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat as it pierces the Martian atmosphere, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and lands on three legs.

InSight's landing was carefully choreographed. It will slow down until it reaches a consistent 5 miles per hour.

InSight is being followed to Mars by two mini-spacecraft that comprise NASA's Mars Cube One (MarCo), the first deep-space mission for CubeSats, or tiny satellites.

Horne said the mission could even bring us one step closer towards answering the question of whether aliens exist somewhere out there in the universe.

NASA Landing Pia
Courtesy of NASA

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

Nasa officials say it will take two to three months for the main instruments to be deployed and put into operation. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment.

So what do we know about the InSight robot, which is armed to the teeth with scientific instruments? And Tuesday night, the Mars Odyssey orbiter should confirm that the spacecraft's solar arrays have unfurled.

The 800-pound (360-kilogram) InSight is stationary with three legs and will operate from the same spot for the next two years, the duration of a Martian year.

An artist's rendition of the InSight operating on the surface of Mars.

Next up is NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which is modeled on Curiosity and planned to launch in summer 2021 for a February 2021 landing.

These instruments include the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structures to investigate what causes the seismic waves on Mars the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package to burrow beneath the surface and determine heat flowing out of the planet and the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment to use radios to study the planet's core.

It will take weeks for InSight to get started on its primary work, and months to years for the mission to get solid science results about the interior of Mars, but that is the kind of mission that we've signed on to with this lander.

InSight, a $1 billion worldwide project, includes a German mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure Mars' internal heat.

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