New lander will add to humans' long fascination with Mars

Cristina Cross
November 27, 2018

After six months zooming through space, the InSight lander will make its way to the Martian surface in just six minutes.

InSight should provide our best look yet at Mars' deep interior, using a mechanical mole to tunnel 5 metres deep to measure internal heat, and a seismometer to register quakes, meteorite strikes and anything else that might start the red planet shaking.

It's InSight lander is scheduled to land on the red planet Monday, November 26.

That's if it survives a brutal seven minute landing. Its 77-mile descent to the surface will be slowed by atmospheric friction, a giant parachute and retro rockets.

In less than two days, NASA is landing on Mars with NASA InSight!

Even then, engineers will not hear about the experience of InSight during landing until approximately eight minutes after.

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The JPL controllers also expect to receive a photo of the probe's surroundings on the flat, smooth Martian plain close to the planet's equator called the Elysium Planitia.

More probes have been sent to Mars than any other planet in the solar system but more than half of these missions have ended in failure, with the final stages, involving landing gently on the Martian surface, proving to be particularly risky and unsuccessful. Almost two dozen other Mars missions have been sent from other nations.

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.

"What this helps us understand is how we got to here", said JPL's Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator, during a pre-landing briefing with reporters last week.

NASA's 2012 probe, Curiosity, was tasked with a scouting mission while InSight's focus will be to learn what goes on under Mars' surface taking the planet's temperature, and measuring marsquakes. And by bouncing radio signals back and forth with Earth, it will tell us whether Mars wobbles on its orbit (ultimately telling us about the composition of the planet's core).

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