InSight has very nearly reached Mars. But now comes the tough part: landing safely on the barren, red surface.
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This is it, then—it’s almost time for NASA’s InSight rover to hit the brakes for a nice, smooth landing on Mars’ surface. As reported earlier, InSight will have to face extremely high temperatures and terrific forces as it passes through Mars’ atmosphere later tonight to make a landing at Elysium Planitia, a smooth, flat plain 600 kilometres from Curiosity’s landing site. To achieve this, InSight will activate its downward-facing heat shield and thrusters all by itself when the time is right. It’s crucial, then, that everything go according to plan. Here’s how you can catch the action live later tonight:
NASA will be broadcasting the InSight landing live between 12:30 AM and 2:00 AM Indian Standard Time (2:00 PM and 3:30 PM Eastern Standard Time) on YouTube and on Facebook. Additionally, Space.com will be mirroring the same live. NASA has also scheduled viewing parties across the US to watch the landing in person with other space enthusiasts. Find the list of scheduled viewing parties here.
When InSight reaches Mars’ atmosphere it will slow itself down from a speed of 19,800 kmph to less than 1,600 kmph, and eventually to nought. During the ride, temperatures will soar to 1,480 degrees Celsius. The seven-minute long landing will be a nail-biting moment for mission controllers over at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California because they will have no control over the rover during that time. A signal from Earth to Mars takes about eight minutes to reach, which is way too long for any course corrections. InSight will use a pre-programmed landing plan to make it to the Martian surface.
The InSight rover is headed to Mars to study the Red Planet’s interiors. It packs an SEIS instrument (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure), which is a six-sensor seismometer combining two types of sensors to measure ground motions over a large range of frequencies, to give scientists back on Earth a glimpse of Mars’ internal activity. InSight also features the HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package), an instrument that can measure the amount of heat escaping from Mars. Like Curiosity, InSight is expected to make a smooth and successful thruster-based landing on Mars later tonight. Godspeed, brave rover!
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