Mars InSight mission: What Nasa's trip to Red Planet aims to discover

InSight landing

The touchdown is scheduled for about 3 p.m.

- Mars' robotic population is set to increase by one on Monday afternoon with the landing of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission. The satellite also shot back a quick photo from Mars' surface.

The MarCO spacecraft hitched a ride with InSight. To successfully land, Insight must go from about about 12,300 miles per hour to 0 in around six minutes.

You're tuning into the live feed for the sake of the landing, and any additional news is a bonus.

That heat shield is thicker than on previous missions to protect the mission from heavy dust in the atmosphere/ InSight's engineers built the lander with dust storms in mind.

The landing itself is a tricky maneuver.

All being well, the InSight probe should enter the Martian atmosphere at 12,300mph before an array of 12 thrusters attempts to slow it down to 5mph for a safe touchdown.

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.

It's been six years since NASA successfully landed the Curiosity rover on Mars. 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. Any adjustments to the trajectories of spacecraft - or weather on landing day - could change these times by up to several seconds, scientists say.

The very first image returned by NASA InSight, from Elysium Planitia, post-landing.

At 2:47 pm ET, the entry, descent and landing phase is set to begin, and InSight will come blazing into the atmosphere at 12,300 miles per hour. The InSight's instrument will be on the ground and is expected to yield much deeper insight on quakes, which are thought to be smaller than 6.0 on the Richter scale.

Explosives will eject the heat shield 15 seconds later, exposing the InSight probe hidden inside. After getting that radar signal, it will separate from the remaining shell and parachute, firing its descent engines known as retrorockets to help slow it down even more. Then, it will touch down at 2:54 pm ET. It has the largest volcano in the solar system, but we don't yet know if it's dead and dormant or destined to erupt again. "We have no ability to actually, kind of, fly the lander to the surface".

InSight's science mission won't begin right away.

The lander is also equipped with a robotic arm that it will use to place HP³ and RISE on the surface of the planet. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment.

Onboard the vessel are a number of intricate instruments that NASA hopes will help uncover answers to Mars mysteries. Because it won't be roving over the surface, the landing site was an important determination.

The entry, descent, and landing phases will each emit a slightly different radio frequency, enabling engineers to track InSight's progress.

The self-hammering mole will burrow 16 feet (5 meters) down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the ultra-high-tech seismometer listens for possible marsquakes.

Meanwhile, a radio transmitter will send back signals tracking Mars' subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet's core and possibly whether it remains molten. In the USA, you can see the landing in places like Times Square, the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Space Center Houston and LA's California Science Center.

- The orbital pattern of the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, flying overhead, means NASA won't know until 0135 GMT on Tuesday if InSight's solar arrays have deployed or not.



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