InSight will land on Mars at approximately 3 P.M. EST. And if you're in NY, you can stand with fellow New Yorkers, tourists and fully grown adults in Elmo suits to celebrate the moment in Times Square. This equipment will help mission scientists map the Martian interior in unprecedented detail over the next two Earth years, revealing key insights about the formation and evolution of rocky planets, NASA officials have said. But instead of watching the alien mothership explode, you'll see a real-world space achievement years in the making.
On Monday, NASA's InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Lander is scheduled for a soft touchdown on the surface of the planet Mars, the first spacecraft launched from the West Coast of the USA to reach another planet. At the minimum, there's an eight-minute communication lag between Mars and Earth. A minute later, the spacecraft will make a turn to orient itself for atmospheric entry.
Only about 40 percent of the landers and rovers sent to the red planet during the last five decades have ever made it safely down to the surface, and of the global space agencies that have tried, only NASA has succeeded in making a soft landing on Mars.
- At 1951 GMT, the parachutes deploy.
Of 43 other global attempts to send orbiters, probes, landers or rovers to Mars, 25 have not made it.
At 14:51 EST the parachute will deploy, with the heat shield ejected seconds later. Mars Odyssey will pass over the landing zone, with its cameras pointed down to capture whether the lander deployed its solar panels, however it will not send that information until 5 hours after the landing. To mark the occasion, NASA will be livestreaming the event on its dedicated TV channel, through its website and on its social media platforms. Then, the descent engines, known as retrorockets, begin to fire.
Engineers at JPL hope to get real-time electronic confirmation of the spacecraft's safe arrival from miniature satellites that were launched along with InSight and will fly past Mars.
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"Previous missions haven't gone more than skin-deep at Mars", Sue Smrekar, the InSight mission's deputy principal investigator, noted.
What we will see, with a lag-time of about 8 minutes due to the distance between Mars and Earth, is the team in the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) Control Center, receiving the messages that InSight sends back from Mars. A flight version of the Instrument Context Camera (ICC) that took this image is expected to take InSight's first image on Mars.
Another instrument onboard the lander is a spear-like heat probe, which will burrow vertically into the ground and measure the rate at which heat is escaping from the planet.
"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.
"InSight is a mission to Mars, but it's much, much more than a Mars mission".
The mission is expected to last about two Earth-years.