Sci-tech

NASA Probe Lands Safely On Martian Surface 03:19 Download

NASA Probe Lands Safely On Martian Surface 03:19 Download

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is ready and waiting for the lander to make its appearance in the martian skies, which it is scheduled to do at approximately 3 p.m. ET today.

The InSight spacecraft, which took off from California almost six months ago, finally made its landing on the surface of Mars Monday.

An artist's conception shows NASA's Mars InSight firing its thrusters for landing.

The heat shield did its thing for about 3 1/2 minutes, then the parachute deployed.

There will not be any live video streaming of Mars InSight's approach, and signals will be transmitted back to Earth on an eight-minute delay.

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry", Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a press release.

Earth's overall success rate at Mars is 40 percent.

In such a case, NASA would work to establish communication with the spacecraft via the Deep Space Network of radio dishes around the world, and also attempt to photograph the landing site with one of the orbiters already circling Mars.

The InSight mission will also bring several martian "firsts" to interplanetary science, including the first seismometer situated on the surface, to detect and analyze waves created by "marsquakes". "It takes skill, focus and years of preparation", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

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"Indeed it is a heavenly plain, and it is very plain, but it is actually ideal", InSight project manager Tom Hoffman said, "It's safe, it's a great place not only to land, it's a great place to do the science that we want to do". "Going to Mars is really, really hard".

Flight controllers announced that the robotic geologist, InSight, entered the Martian atmosphere Monday afternoon.

NASA's first robotic lander created to study the deep interior of Mars is on course for a planned touchdown tonight after a six-month voyage through space. The InSight craft is aiming for a flat plain mostly free of rocks called Elysium Planitia, which NASA has dubbed "the biggest parking lot on Mars".

Here's what's supposed to happen: About 90 minutes before atmosphere entry, mission managers will send the latest tracking information to the probe, so it will know where it is and how fast it is traveling. By putting the equipment in direct contact with Martian dirt, scientists expect to avoid the issues experienced by the 1970s Viking landers, where seismometers on the lander picked up vibrations from the spacecraft itself rather than from the planet.

InSight's landing was carefully choreographed.

How will NASA know when InSight lands safely?

The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3) will compliment SEIS, using a self-hammering device to burrow down to a planned five meters below the surface-deeper than any digging on Mars before.

The suite of geophysical instruments on InSight sounds like a doctor's bag, giving Mars its first "checkup" since it formed.

After a detailed photo survey of the surrounding terrain near the lander and repeated rehearsals on Earth, a robot arm on InSight's upper deck will be commanded to pick up both instruments and lower them to the surface. 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 arrival marks the start of a two-year mission to study the heart of Mars-it will peer into the interior of the planet to provide scientists with a more detailed understanding of its crust, mantle and core.


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