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

Pablo Tucker
November 26, 2018

The probe will attempt a landing on Monday, Nov. 26, at around 3pm ET (20:00 UTC). At 3 P.M. EST the spacecraft should touch down on Mars.

Still flying at supersonic speed, the probe will pop a 39-foot parachute to radically slow its velocity, followed by the jettisoning of the heat shield, the release of landing legs and the initiation of ground radar signals to acquire data on the landing site.

In recent days, NASA has been commanding the spacecraft to make minor course corrections to ensure InSight enters the Martian atmosphere at the proper angle to within about a quarter of a degree. Unlike InSight, the MarCO spacecraft keep on going past Mars into space.

The sharpest view of Mars ever taken from Earth Nasa  Getty Images
The sharpest view of Mars ever taken from Earth Nasa Getty Images

"Certainly, there are always a number of things that could go wrong", said Stu Spath, Lockheed Martin InSight program manager and director of Deep Space Exploration. The InSight spacecraft was built near Denver by Lockheed Martin.

Phoenix, however, was a great success, and the stationary lander outlasted NASA's expectations, surviving almost double the 90 Martian sols planned for the mission before succumbing to dust and cold in a way that we fervently hope the Opportunity rover has not.

It's shooting for Elysium Planitia, a plain near the Martian equator that the InSight team hopes is as flat as a parking lot in Kansas with few, if any, rocks.

In space, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will be tracking InSight's progress down to the surface, however, it is not created to relay those message real-time. And although it is dust storm season on Mars, there are presently no dust storms raging across the surface.

The smaller, 880-pound (360 kg) InSight - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st USA -launched Martian exploration including the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s.

All this happens in less than 7 minutes without any help from engineers and scientists back at JPL. Just how quickly you get details will depend on two cubesats (Mars Cube One) making a flyby and relaying InSight's data.

Thus, if that final tone is not heard, they will need to wait for the data that MRO and Odyssey send, to confirm the status of the lander, whether or not it survived, and if it has opened up its solar panels. At the minimum, there's an eight-minute communication lag between Mars and Earth. (If no signal is received, that obviously would be very bad indeed).

With just a day to go, NASA's InSight spacecraft aimed for a bull's-eye touchdown on Mars, zooming in like an arrow with no turning back. This will provide detailed information about the landing. The lander will be broadcasting information during entry, descent and landing in the UHF band to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which can not simultaneously receive in one band and transmit in another.

Zurbuchen described InSight as "unique" because the waist-high lander contains instruments that were contributed by several European space agencies. A minute later, InSight will orient itself for entry before barreling into the thin atmosphere of the red planet, starting at 14:47 EST and travelling at 12,300mph.

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