NASA’s InSight lander is now just a few days away from landing on the surface of Mars.
According to NASA, the InSight lander will arrive on the Red Planet on Monday, November 26th. While this is not the first time a U.S.-built spacecraft will visit Mars, the InSight would be the first to conduct underground exploration.
Unlike the Curiosity and the Opportunity rovers sent as part of NASA’s program to study the surface of the planet, the InSight’s purpose is to dig deep and listen for quakes.
The lander will enter Mars’ atmosphere and land on a flat equatorial plain north of the planet’s equator known as the Elysium Planitia. Should everything go as planned, the lander will begin its 708-Martian day mission of scanning the planet.
“We’re really excited. There’s nothing as exciting as landing on Mars. So far we are in good shape. We’ve basically done everything we can to be ready,” Tom Hoffman, project manager of the InSight Lander Mission, said.
The InSight Lander
The $800 million USD InSight lander was launched earlier this year from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It’s taken just over six months to reach Mars. The primary mission is to help scientists better understand how Mars turned into a dry, barren planet.
“It will give us some idea how geologically active Mars is at the present day, and will allow us to build more precise models of the Martian interior. This is important for understanding the similarities and differences between Earth, Mars, and other rocky planets,” Dr. Sean McMahon, a geobiologist from the University of Edinburg, was quoted as saying.
Unlike other ventures, the lander will remain in a fixed position. Using its seven-foot-long robotic arm and a suite of instruments, it will drill a 16-feet hole into the surface of the Red Planet.
24 hours before the InSight’s atmospheric entry, descent, and landing, the NASA team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will make their final correction maneuvers. This is to ensure that the lander will enter Mars’ atmosphere at the right angle. It will largely prevent it from being vaporized or burned.
Ten minutes before entry, the InSight lander will release its protective cover in its cruising stage. After that, the lander will enter Mars at a speed of 13,000 miles per hour, heating its shield to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
NASA expects the heat shield to remain hot for around 3 minutes until the parachute deploys. 30 seconds after deployment of the chute, the InSight lander will drop its heat shield and activate its radar. This will allow it to ping the planet and measure its distance from the surface.
From then on, following a safe landing, the lander will begin its investigation into the seismic nature of Mars.