Update: Mission Success! after a long and winding journey to the red planet, NASA’s InSight Lander successfully touched down on the Martian surface at around 2:50 pm EST on Monday, November 26th. Now that the craft has landed safely, InSight can begin conducting geological research and investigating the composition of Mars’ soil.
*skip to about 49:00 on the video above to jump to the exciting parts, after the lander the lander enters the Martian atmosphere.
It may be long past Halloween, but if you’re looking to enjoy a heart-rate-elevating, pulse-pounding “seven minutes of terror,” look no further than NASA’s scheduled Mars landing later today. At noon PT/3 p.m. ET today, the space agency’s unmanned InSight lander will enter Mars’ thin atmosphere at hypersonic speed, before slowing itself enough to make a picture-perfect landing. If that sounds difficult, you’re not wrong: According to NASA, only 40 percent of the missions attempting this feat have proven successful.
“Although we’ve done it before, landing on Mars is hard, and this mission is no different,” Rob Manning, NASA’s chief engineer at the jet propulsion laboratory, said in a statement. “It takes thousands of steps to go from the top of the atmosphere to the surface, and each one of them has to work perfectly [for InSight] to be a successful mission.”
The InSight name is short for “Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.” As that name implies, the goal of the lander spacecraft is to carry out geological research, helping scientists to better get to grips with how the planet is constructed from core to crust. This will include taking planetary temperatures, investigating what the planet’s various rock layers are composed of, and using radio transmissions to generate data on Mars’ axis. Provided that everything goes correctly, the lander will touch down just north of the planet’s equator, Elysium Planitia.
While the information gathered will be interesting in providing a better understanding of Mars, the hope is that it will also clue us in on information about Earth, a similarly rocky planet that nonetheless developed quite differently. “The small details in how planets evolve are what we think make the difference between a place like Earth, where you can go on vacation and get a tan, and a place like Venus where you’ll burn in seconds, or a place like Mars where you’ll freeze to death,” InSight chief scientist Bruce Banerdt said in a statement.
If you want to watch coverage of the landing live, you can visit NASA’s website or check out the above YouTube livestream. Coverage will commence at 10.30 a.m. PT/1.30 p.m ET.