NASA spacecraft lands on Mars after 6-month journey

27 November, 2018, 04:34 | Author: Harriet Bell
  • NASA Looking Toward Manned Mission To Mars 'Sometime In The 2030s'

A NASA spacecraft created to drill down into Mars' interior landed on the planet Monday after a perilous, supersonic plunge through its red skies, setting off jubilation among scientists who had waited in white-knuckle suspense for confirmation to arrive across 100 million miles of space. The lander's 12 descent engines will fire, slowing it down and straightening the spacecraft for what engineers hope will be a steady, soft landing in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars, about 373 miles (600 km) north of the Curiosity rover's initial landing site at Gale Crater. When the lander reaches the top of Mars' atmosphere it takes seven minutes to descend and land, during that time it needs to slow down from 12,300mph to near zero, endure a peak heat shield temperature of 1,500 degrees Celsius, successfully deploy a parachute, separate from the heat shield, and deploy three legs on which to land.

Add to that the fact that fewer than half of all attempted Mars landings have ended successfully, and it makes sense that there will definitely be some nervous energy as these events play out on another planet, with engineers blind to the process until it is complete. Even when viewed from Earth without a telescope, Mars appears reddish in color as it hangs amid the stars - in fact, its bloody appearance inspired ancient astronomers to name the planet after the Roman god of war, according to NASA.

"There's a reason engineers call landing on Mars "seven minutes of terror"," said Dr. Rob Grover, InSight's entry, descent and landing (EDL) lead, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. InSight will spend two years investigating the interior where the building blocks below the planet's surface that recorded its history.

About 20 minutes before landing, InSight will separate from the cruise stage that helped bring it all the way to Mars and turn to position itself for entering the atmosphere.

Immediately after landing, InSight's very first act was to snap a picture of the landscape immediately in front of it.

"It really depends on how benevolent Mars is feeling, how many marsquakes it throws at us", Banerdt said Sunday.

"Once we get to the surface, InSight is a slow-motion mission", InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt, also of JPL, said during yesterday's news conference.

The robotic geologist - created to explore Mars' mysterious insides - must go from 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat as it pierces the Martian atmosphere, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and lands on three legs.

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

InSight's science mission won't begin right away. By exploring Mars, InSight will also give us new insights into how the Earth and Moon formed.

InSight's 6-foot robotic arm will be used to place the instruments on the Martian surface, where they will be calibrated.

With InSight on Mars, what comes next? This spot is open, flat safe and boring, which is what the scientists want for a stationary two-year mission.

Next up is NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which is modeled on Curiosity and planned to launch in summer 2021 for a February 2021 landing.

The mission team will also use InSight's communications gear to measure the wobble of Mars' axial tilt.

The lander will touch down on Mars at 3pm ET (8pm GMT), on Monday, November 26.

The $1 billion worldwide mission features a German-led mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure the planet's internal heat.



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