With only a day to go, the NASA InSight spacecraft pointed to a bull's-eye landing on Mars, approaching like an arrow without retreating. The InSight trip of six months and 300 million miles (482 million kilometers) reaches a precarious final on Monday afternoon.
The robotic geologist, designed to explore the interior of Mars, from the surface to the core, must go from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes, as it goes through the Martian atmosphere, throws a parachute, triggers its descent engines and, hopefully, lands on three legs.
It's NASA's first attempt to land on Mars in six years, and everyone involved is understandably anxious. The top official of the scientific mission of NASA, Thomas Zurbuchen, confided on Sunday that his stomach is already upset. The hardest thing is to sit on his hands and do nothing, he said, except that waiting and praying everything goes perfectly for InSight.
"Landing on Mars is one of the most difficult individual jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration," said InSight chief scientist Bruce Banerdt. "It's such a difficult thing, it's such a dangerous thing that there's always a very uncomfortable possibility that something can go wrong."
The success rate of the Earth on Mars is 40 percent, counting each attempt at overflight, orbital flight and US landing. UU., Russia and other countries that go back to 1960. But EE. UU He has achieved seven successful landings on Mars in the last four decades. . With just one failed touchdown, it's an enviable record. No other country has managed to establish and operate a spacecraft on the dusty red surface. InSight could give NASA its eighth victory.
He is filming for Elysium Planitia, a plain near the Martian equator that the InSight team hopes will be as flat as a Kansas parking lot with few rocks, if any. This is not a rock collection expedition. Instead, the stationary 800-pound (360-kilogram) landing module will use its 6-foot (1.8-meter) robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and a seismometer on the ground.
The self-standing mole will sink 16 feet (5 meters) down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the ultra-high technology seismometer listens to possible marsquakes. None of this has been tried before in our smallest neighbor, almost 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) away. No experiment has been robotically moved from the spacecraft to the actual Martian surface. No lander has dug more than several centimeters and no seismometer has worked on Mars.
By examining the deepest and darkest interior of Mars, which has been preserved since its inception, scientists hope to create 3D images that can reveal how the rocky planets of our solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they were so different . One of the big questions is what made Earth so hospitable to life. Mars once had rivers and lakes that flow; The deltas and the lakebeds are now dry, and the planet is cold. Venus is an oven due to its thick atmosphere that traps heat. Mercury, closer to the sun, has a surface that cooks positively.
According to Banerdt, the planetary knowledge obtained from the $ 1 billion InSight, a two-year operation could extend to rocky worlds beyond our solar system. The findings on Mars could help explain the type of conditions in these so-called exoplanets "and how they fit into the story we're trying to figure out how planets form," he said.
Concentrating on planetary building blocks, InSight has no life detection capability. That will be for future rovers. The mission of NASA on Mars 2020, for example, will collect rocks for an eventual return that could contain evidence of ancient life. Because so much time has passed since NASA's last landing on Mars, the Curiosity rover in 2012, the mania of Mars is affecting not only the communities of science and space, but the people of every day.
They plan to see parties from coast to coast in museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as in France, where the InSight seismometer was designed and built. The giant NASDAQ screen in New York's Times Square will begin broadcasting NASA Television one hour before InSight's scheduled time at 3 p.m. Touchdown EST; so will the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The InSight spacecraft was built near Denver by Lockheed Martin.
But the real action, at least on Earth, will be developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home of the InSight flight control team. NASA is providing a special 360-degree online transmission from inside the control center. The confirmation of the touchdown could take minutes, or hours. At a minimum, there is an eight-minute communication delay between Mars and Earth.
A pair of satellites the size of a briefcase that follow InSight since takeoff in May will attempt to transmit their radio signals to Earth, with a potential delay time of less than nine minutes. These experimental CubeSats will fly through the red planet without stopping. The signals could also travel directly from InSight to radio telescopes in West Virginia and Germany. It will take longer to listen to NASA Mars orbiters.
The project manager, Tom Hoffman, said he is doing everything possible to maintain calm outside as the hours decrease. However, once InSight calls home from the Martian surface, he expects to behave as his three grandchildren did at the Thanksgiving dinner, running like crazy and screaming. "Just to warn anyone sitting near me … I'm going to unleash my 4 year old with you, so be careful," he said.
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