NASA's Insight Mission: When will it land and why should we care?

Mars In Sight probe

NASA Looking Toward Manned Mission To Mars 'Sometime In The 2030s'

This is going to be tense. After detaching from the parachute, 12 thrusters will slow the lander's descent to just over 2 meters per second before it touches down.

A further three achieved orbit but failed to land.

Out of the 44 NASA missions sent to Mars, only 18 have been successful.

This focus on the Martian interior explains why the mission team chose such a boring landing site: Cliffs, craters, ancient river deltas and other landscape features would serve only to complicate a safe touchdown. However, a high-speed crash remains a risk.

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.

The unmanned spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, is expected to reach the Red Planet around 3 p.m. ET, on Monday. It's also taking over NY with the landing set to be shown on big screens in Times Square. You can also watch the landing on YouTube and UStream.

Engineers will be huddled with scientists at JPL on November 26, watching with nervous anticipation for signals that InSight successfully touched down. Radio signals confirming the landing took more than eight minutes to cross the almost 100 million miles between Mars and Earth.

The instrument, mounted on the deck of the lander, will also give an indication if the core is liquid or solid. Then, the descent engines, known as retrorockets, begin to fire.

If all goes according to plan, it will drop onto the equatorial plain called Elysium Planitia at about 5 miles per hour - but scientists won't know if its solar panels will have deployed until about 8:35 p.m. EST, when NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will be in position to relay data to Earth.

Onboard the vessel are a number of intricate instruments that NASA hopes will help uncover answers to Mars mysteries.

The heat probe, HP³, will drill nearly five metres beneath the surface of the planet after being deposited by InSight's robotic arm.

The InSight, which is being managed by Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is scheduled to land on Mars at around noon Pacific time.

InSight's 6-foot robotic arm will be used to place the instruments on the Martian surface, where they will be calibrated. And although it is dust storm season on Mars, there are presently no dust storms raging across the surface. Still, this second largest volcanic region on Mars is an ideal place for InSight to land because of the science it is created to perform.

Here's a minute-by-minute look at the biggest moments of InSight's landing sequence - any of which could doom the robot.

Unlike its roving companions, InSight will not be directly searching for signs of life on Mars.

InSight's primary instrument is a French-built seismometer, created to record the slightest vibrations from "marsquakes" and meteor impacts around the planet.

The planetary know-how gained from InSight's $1 billion, two-year operation could even spill over to rocky worlds beyond our solar system, according to Banerdt. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) can detect ground vibrations that are smaller than a hydrogen atom, providing an unprecedented picture of the tectonic activity and geologic shifting of Mars.

Add to that the fact that fewer than half of all attempted Mars landings have ended successfully, and it makes sense that there will definitely be some nervous energy as these events play out on another planet, with engineers blind to the process until it is complete.

The InSight and next rover mission, along with others in the planning stage, are seen as precursors for eventual human exploration of Mars, NASA officials said.

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