After six months of a deep space voyage, NASA's new Mars lander InSight is ready to descend and explore the red planet.
The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport spacecraft is scheduled to touch down on Monday, Nov. 26. Engineers at mission control will continue monitoring the spacecraft and the red planet this weekend to make sure that everything is in order before landing in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars.
What To Expect On Monday
Once NASA has made sure that InSight is in its optimal health, the space agency will make an attempt to land at about noon on Monday, Pacific Time. The Mars lander will experience what they call "seven minutes of terror" as it streaks into the red planet's thin atmosphere at thousands of miles per hour. Similar to the 2008 Phoenix mission, InSight will deploy a parachute to slow down its descent before firing up its 12 thrusters to land safely on the ground.
The CubeSat mission known as Mars Cube One or MarCO, which traveled to Mars alongside InSight, will make a flyby around the red planet and relay data on the landing in near real-time to mission control on Earth. NASA said that the two MarCO spacecraft are on their way to the rendezvous point and have passed their first deep space radio tests.
Even then, engineers will not hear about the experience of InSight during landing until approximately eight minutes after. Without MarCO, ground control will have to wait several hours for an update about the lander.
Once on the ground, InSight will not immediately begin its mission to explore the deep interior of Mars. Engineers will begin a three-month process of carefully deploying the lander's science equipment.
The InSight Mission
InSight's primary goal is to be the first lander to make an in-depth study of the inside of Mars. It seeks to uncover how rocky bodies within the Solar System, including Earth, were formed several billions of years ago.
"Earth and Mars were molded out of very similar stuff," stated Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator behind InSight. "Why did the finished planets turn out so differently? Our measurements will help us turn back the clock and understand what produced a verdant Earth but a desolate Mars."