NASA scientists are freaking out over Mars rover landing

27 November, 2018, 04:32 | Author: Bertha Harmon
  • HeraldScotland

InSight's journey of six months and 300 million miles (482 million kilometers) comes to a precarious grand finale Monday afternoon.

Using a heat shield, parachutes and landing legs, InSight is expected to land at 3 p.m., EST, Monday.

During the landing, signals from InSight will take time to travel the 91 million miles back to Earth. Its 124km descent to the surface will be slowed by atmospheric friction, a giant parachute and retro rockets.

"We can't joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-program into the spacecraft".

InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the 21st USA -launched mission to Mars.

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An artist illustration of the InSight lander on Mars. It is created to carry out its mission from a stationary position, and it is expected to land and set up shop in an area known as the Elysium Planitia, which JPL officials dubbed "the biggest parking lot on Mars", providing a flat solid surface for the craft to do its work.

Since this is InSight's primary mission, though, the team needs to proceed very carefully at this point. NASA's Mars 2020 mission, for instance, will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analyzed for evidence of ancient life. "Elysium Planitia is flawless". The Rover, which has more than 12 miles on its odometer, is now the only thing operating on the Martian surface.

Because it's been so long since NASA's last Martian landfall - the Curiosity rover in 2012 - Mars mania is gripping not only the space and science communities, but everyday folks.

You can also follow InSight on Twitter as it lands, and in the next few days and weeks, as it starts conducting its investigation. "Its data also will help scientists understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including our own".

It would be NASA's eighth landing on Mars.

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InSight has been traveling through deep space for more than six months.

The InSight team won't know that the stationary spacecraft's solar panels have deployed until 8:35 p.m. EST (0135 GMT) at the earliest, when NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will be in position to relay home to Earth confirmation of that milestone event. Since 1964, the United States has now launched 23 robotic spacecraft to the red planet at a cost of more than $20 billion in an evolving campaign to map out the red planet's surface, determine the role of water in its history and to search for signs of past habitability and the organic building blocks of life. Project manager Tom Hoffman said the spacecraft landed close to the bull's-eye, but NASA did not have yet have the final calculations. Due to a global dust storm, which only recently abated, dust has been redistributed over almost the entire surface of Mars. Flight controllers haven't given up hope yet that it will be revived. Nothing has ever dug deeper into Mars than several inches.

"I'm really confident, personally, that we're going to land safely", says Bruce Banerdt, the mission's principal investigator here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars' moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

The suite of geophysical instruments on InSight sounds like a doctor's bag, giving Mars its first "checkup" since it formed.

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