Published: Mon, November 26, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

NASA's InSight Mars Landing: a Nail-Biting '6.5 Minutes of Terror'

NASA's InSight Mars Landing: a Nail-Biting '6.5 Minutes of Terror'

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is also hosting a viewing event beginning at 2 p.m with live views from mission control at JPL I'll be joining Museum astrophysicist Rachel Smith, Ph.D., with more information about the mission, its instruments, and what we hope to learn about what lies inside the red planet. They will also send last-minute tweaks to the software on the spacecraft that controls the landing, based on estimates of the amount of dust in the Martian atmosphere.

After that, the spacecraft turns, so its heat shield is pointing in the right direction. This intense heat could cause temporary dropouts in radio signals.

"Believe it or not, 99 percent of the energy that we have coming in from space is actually bled off by the atmosphere", Grover says. So far, the journey so far says NASA, has been uneventful and that is a good thing. At this point, the probe is still traveling faster than the speed of sound, so InSight has a special parachute designed for supersonic speeds.

As if that wasn't enough, those engines will have to power off the moment InSight lands in order to prevent the craft from tipping over.

Even though they can't do anything to help InSight as it descends, mission managers should be able to watch its progress. "InSight scientists can't wait to explore the heart of Mars".

"It's about the size of a cereal box, explains Anne Marinan, a systems engineer on the team that's in charge of MarCO".

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"Cubesats were originally developed as a way to easily give students, essentially, access to space", Marinan says. In MarCO's case, the new technology is communications equipment that will relay telemetry data from InSight to Earth. The mission includes two small cube satellites trailing the probe, which are created to help relay real-time data from the craft back to earth, faster than a NASA satellite orbiting Mars could. The lander will spend 24 months - about one Martian year - using seismic monitoring and underground drilling to gather clues on how Mars formed and, by extension, the origins of Earth and other rocky planets of the inner solar system more than 4 billion years ago. If InSight comes into too shallow, the spacecraft could skip off the thin atmosphere, and an entry angle that is too steep would produce too much thermal heating. Once they finish relaying InSight's landing telemetry, their mission is over.

Meanwhile, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will record the entry, descent, and landing of InSight in real time, but because of planetary dynamics, that spacecraft won't relay that information back to Earth for about three hours.

Launched alongside NASA's InSight Mars lander in early May, researchers have indicated that both CubeSats are effectively "chasing" Mars as it orbits the sun, in order to be in position to capture InSight's landing on the planet. The goal of the instrument is to provide a definitive measurement of the heat still flowing out from the interior of Mars.

Getting a rocket ride to the red planet is the easy part.

The mission is expected to last about two Earth-years.

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