Mars InSight project manager Tom Hoffman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says he’s “completely excited and completely nervous at the same time” about Monday’s planned touchdown of the Mars InSight spacecraft.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (NASA TV) – NASA’s first robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of a distant world hurtled closer to Mars on course for a planned touchdown on Monday after a six-month voyage through space.
Traveling 301 million miles (548 million km) from Earth, the Mars InSight spacecraft was due to reach its destination on the dusty, rock-strewn surface of the Red Planet at about 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT).
If all goes according to plan, InSight will streak into the pink Martian sky at 12,000 miles per hour (19,310 kilometers per hour). Its 77-mile descent to the surface will be slowed by atmospheric friction, a giant parachute and retro rockets. When it lands 6-1/2 minutes later, it will be traveling a mere 5 mph (8 kph).
The stationary probe, which launched from California in May, will then pause for 16 minutes for the dust to settle, literally, around the landing site before its disc-shaped solar arrays unfurl to provide power.
The mission control team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles hopes to get real-time electronic confirmation of the spacecraft’s safe arrival from miniature satellites that were launched along with InSight and will fly past Mars.
The JPL controllers also expect to receive a photo of the probe’s surroundings on the flat, smooth Martian plain close to the planet’s equator called the Elysium Planitia.
The smaller, 880-pound (360 kg) InSight – its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport – marks the 21st U.S.-launched Martian exploration including the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s.