UPDDATE: 2:59 p.m. EST: After seven months of traveling through space, the NASA InSight mission has landed on Mars. A few minutes later, InSight sent the official “beep” to NASA to signal that it was alive and well, including a photo of the Martian surface where it landed.
Today NASA will land on the red planet by venturing to place its InSight lander in a spacecraft almost 10 years and nearly one billion dollars in the making.
But landing on the vast planes of Mars’ Elysium Planitia is far from guaranteed. According to Wired,
The 1500-pound robot will enter the planet’s atmosphere around 12:00 PST in excess of 12,000 miles per hour, its protective aeroshell shielding it from heat-generating friction and treacherous sandstorms on its descent toward the Martian surface. Yet the planet’s thin atmosphere can only slow the spacecraft so much; InSight will also deploy a 39-foot-wide supersonic parachute and activate its descent thrusters to decelerate to just five miles per hour before finally plopping down on its shock-absorbing legs.
The entire landing sequence will take about seven minutes to occur. A radio signal from Mars to Earth currently takes about eight minutes and seven seconds to get here. So the complete landing process will take place before we find out if it was successful. It will be done automatically, entirely by the probe itself.
For the scientists and engineers who designed InSight, it’s called,
“Seven minutes of terror.”
Mars is littered with failed probes, with 44 attempts;
• 18 have been successful
• 23 have not
• 3 achieved orbit but failed at landing
If all goes well, mission control could know shortly after noon PST whether it’s has landed safely on Martian soil.
You can watch the landing live here.
(Photos, Wikimedia commons, NASA; via Wired)