Anxiety abounds at NASA as Mars landing day arrives

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Anxiety abounds at NASA as Mars landing day arrives

The mission control team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles conducted a final adjustment to the InSight's flight path yesterday to manoeuvre the spacecraft closer toward its entry point over Mars.

InSight is scheduled to reach the surface of Mars approximately 3 p.m. EST November 26, and you can watch the event live on NASA Television, the NASA website as well as their official social media platforms. The spacecraft has been created to give Mars its first thorough checkup since the red planet formed, about 4.5 billion years ago.

NASA and Lockheed engineers won't know right away whether the spacecraft has made it safely down to the surface-there is a time delay of 8.1 minutes for communications between Earth and Mars at present.

NASA has a date Monday afternoon with "six minutes of terror", a high-stakes plunge across the surface of Mars that will hopefully end with a successful landing of the Mars InSight. "Landing on another planetary body is in my opinion one of the toughest things that we do in our field".

If the MarCOs fail to relay the telemetry, the data will also be stored by other NASA satellites in orbit around Mars, and sent to Earth after the landing.

After the landing, scientists will take it slow and steady with the lander and its scientific instruments.

Unlike Phoenix, NASA said it expects InSight to survive nearly two Earth years on the surface.

"The landing is all completely automatic and autonomous", says Rob Grover, leader of the Entry, Descent and Landing team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

SEIS, supplied by France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), is a dome-shaped instrument containing three pendulums which will detect the seismic vibrations of Mars. The geologic record of Mars is preserved far better than that of earth, which has active tectonic plates and heat convection from its core, dynamic processes that tend to obliterate physical evidence from eons past. The goal of the instrument is to provide a definitive measurement of the heat still flowing out from the interior of Mars.

At 1940 GMT, the spacecraft is expected to separate from the cruise stage that carried it to Mars.

A carefully orchestrated sequence - already fully preprogrammed on board the spacecraft - takes place over the next several minutes, coined "six and a half minutes of terror". 15 seconds later, the spacecraft will experience maximum deceleration which, along with the heating, could make radio contact a bit wobbly. This is because the powered descent mode that InSight will employ has been tested before, a decade ago with the Phoenix lander. Fifteen seconds later, the heat shield separates from the spacecraft.

- At 1951 GMT, the parachutes deploy. Mars Odyssey will pass over the landing zone, with its cameras pointed down to capture whether the lander deployed its solar panels, however it will not send that information until 5 hours after the landing. NASA's Mars 2020 mission, for instance, will collect rocks for eventual return that could hold evidence of ancient life. To mark the occasion, NASA will be livestreaming the event on its dedicated TV channel, through its website and on its social media platforms.

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