First Images Sent Back From InSight Mars Lander Moments After Touchdown

Scientists expect to see a dozen to 100 marsquakes over the course of the mission

NASA's InSight lander is about to touch down and will immediately begin to decipher the secrets that lie beneath the Martian soil. Having launched on May 5, 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as it enters the atmosphere of Mars, InSight will be traveling at 14,100 miles per hour. Due to reach the Red Planet's surface just before 11:53 a.m. PST/2:43 p.m. EST today, InSight will attempt to land using a parachute and retrorockets.

The craft will land in the same manner as the Viking spacecraft before it, using the friction of a heat shield and then a parachute to slow down from hypersonic speeds as much as possible with atmospheric drag.

InSight is scheduled to touch down on Mars today (Nov. 26) at 3 p.m. ET, joining Mars' other robotic inhabitants: Curiosity, Opportunity and Spirit (though only Curiosity is now "live", sending signals back to Earth). "Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbor as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system". But before InSight sets to work, the craft must first survive a devilishly hard landing.

The MarCo satellites could also relay InSight's first picture of its landing site.

"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". If InSight comes into too shallow, the spacecraft could skip off the thin atmosphere, and an entry angle that is too steep would produce too much thermal heating.

InSight will dig 16 feet into the ground to measure the temperature of Mars and it has a seismometer to detect any Mars-quakes.

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The attraction is sure to grow on Monday, Nov. 26 with the arrival of a NASA lander named InSight. MarCO will try to share data about InSight when it enters the Martian atmosphere for the landing. The intense heating may cause a temporary radio-communications blackout. "It takes skill, focus and years of preparation", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

"The goal of InSight is nothing less than to better understand the birth of the Earth, the birth of the planet we live on, and we're going to do that by going to Mars", Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator of the InSight mission, told CBS News back in May.

InSight could hand NASA its eighth win. The probe will first touch the atmosphere six minutes and 45 seconds before landing.

This explains why the descent will prove to be nerve-racking minutes of terror for Nasa, because the mission managers will have little idea about how the spacecraft will be faring in real time, given the lag in receiving signals. NASA's Mars 2020 mission, for instance, will collect rocks for eventual return that could hold evidence of ancient life. Unlike InSight, the MarCO spacecraft keep on going past Mars into space.

The spacecraft will be landing on Elysium Planitia, a large volcanic plain stretching north of Mars' equator.

InSight is the first dedicated to unlocking secrets from deep below the Martian surface. By making careful measurements of how the frequency of the radio waves change, we will be able to measure the degree to which Mars wobbles as it rotates.

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