NASA’s latest mission to Mars is about to enter an exciting new phase. It’s InSight lander is scheduled to land on the red planet Monday, November 26. The InSight mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This will be the first mission to land on Mars since 2012.
InSight, or the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, lifted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base in May for a six-month journey to the red planet. It is expected to land on a flat, stable surface on a broad Martian plain called Elysium Planitia. Once there, the lander will drill down about 16 feet into the planet’s crust to deploy thermometers and a seismometer into the Martian soil. It will still be two to three months before the instruments are fully deployed.
The landing will be extremely challenging due to the planet’s thin atmosphere. The atmosphere on Mars is about 1 percent as thick as Earth’s, making it difficult for spacecraft to slow down enough for a safe landing. The InSight lander will enter the Martian atmosphere at a speed of about 12,300 mph. In about six-and-a-half minutes it will have to slow down to about 5 mph using descent thrusters and a parachute.
NASA’s live video coverage of the landing will be available starting around 2 p.m. EST. While the landing won’t be captured on video, NASA plans to broadcast live views of mission control and animations detailing each step of InSight’s descent. The broadcast will also include expert commentary on the mission’s progress.
Historically, the United States is the only country that can say it successfully landed anything on the red planet. NASA’s Curiosity rover landed there in 2012. Before that, NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft successfully landed near Mars’ north pole in 2008. The last lander to fly to Mars, the Schiaparelli lander operated by the European Space Agency, crash-landed hard because of a miscalculation.