Six minutes of terror, then rover lands on Mars

27 November, 2018, 05:29 | Author: Tracy Craig
  • NASAs In Sight spacecraft lands Mars

The cubesats, intended primarily as technology demonstrations, were created to provide a realtime relay of telemetry from InSight during landing, without which it would have been hours before controllers knew if the spacecraft had landed successfully.

Monday afternoon's touchdown was preceded by a series of complicated maneuvers as InSight made its way through Mars' atmosphere.

The internet fell in love immediately. Project manager Tom Hoffman said the spacecraft landed close to the bull's-eye, but NASA did not have yet have the final calculations.

"It is wonderful news that the InSight spacecraft has landed safely on Mars", said Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency. A third experiment, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment or RISE, sits on the lander itself and will monitor the position of Mars' North Pole to determine how much the planet is wobbling.

NASA went with its old, straightforward approach this time, using a parachute and braking engines to get InSight's speed from 12,300 mph when it pierced the Martian atmosphere, about 77 miles up, to 5 mph at touchdown.

By examining the interior of Mars, scientists hope to understand how our solar system's rocky planets formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they turned out so different - Mars cold and dry, Venus and Mercury burning hot, and Earth hospitable to life.

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Once on Mars, InSight will drill into the ground with a probe to offer mankind a first-ever look inside the Red Planet.

NASA's science chief, Thomas Zurbuchen said previously: "As humanity, as explorers - we're batting at less than 50 percent".

The probe, which took a six-month journey beginning with a California launch, has delivered three new instruments to the surface of Mars. Although InSight will also have an onboard weather station and suite of cameras, the mission's focus is on peeling back the profound mysteries of the Martian interior. It will take months to set up and fine-tune the instruments, and lead scientist Bruce Banerdt said he doesn't expect to start getting a stream of solid data until late next spring.

Until now, all Mars missions have focused on the planet's surface and atmosphere.

Unlike earthquakes, marsquakes are a outcome of a cooling and shrinking world, says Hoffman, and hopes are high that there will be many marsquakes for InSight to detect. Being completely solar-powered, this is an important activity that ensures the lander has all the power it needs. NASA's Mars Odyssey will then fly overhead to confirm that the panels are out. "That's why scientists chose Elysium Planitia as InSight's home".

The MarCO-A cubesat also indirectly performed science during the flyby as its radio signals were occluded by the planet as it passed behind Mars. The self-hammering mole will burrow five metres down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the seismometer listens for possible quakes.

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