How to watch NASA’s InSight Mars landing

Jo Lloyd
November 27, 2018

After sailing 301 million miles (548 million km) on a six-month voyage through deep space, the robotic lander InSight was due to touch down on the dusty, rock-strewn surface of the Red Planet at about 3 pm EST (2000 GMT).

Add to that the fact that fewer than half of all attempted Mars landings have ended successfully, and it makes sense that there will definitely be some nervous energy as these events play out on another planet, with engineers blind to the process until it is complete.

The InSight mission - short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - is the first ever dedicated to Mars' deep interior, and it will be the first NASA mission since the Apollo moon landings to place a seismometer on the soil of another celestial body.

Flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, leaped out of their seats and erupted in screams, applause and laughter as the news came in.

A NASA spacecraft is making a perilous supersonic descent through the atmosphere of Mars, following a six-month journey.

The lander is outfitted with two main science instruments - a burrowing heat probe and a trio of incredibly sensitive seismometers.

InSight will hit the top of the Martian atmosphere at 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kph) and slow down to 5 miles per hour (8 kph) before its three legs touch down on Martian soil. Peak heating of the protective heat shield will reach 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit two minutes later, which then decelerates. It will be handling its own landing essentially autonomously. The most immediate results we'll get from InSight will be from its cameras - as it takes panoramic shots of the ground around it, using its belly camera, and selfies from its arm cameras - and very soon, we will begin seeing results from its continuous weather-monitoring station! The spacecraft has been created to give Mars its first thorough checkup since the Red Planet formed about 4.5 billion years ago. However, a signal from MarCO takes several minutes to reach Earth traveling at the speed of light. The beauty of this mission is happening below the surface. Then the science really gets underway. The hope is that its protective covering will keep it safe from heat friction and sandstorms as the InSight comes to screeching halt while landing.

"We eject that from the vehicle seven minutes before we're going to hit the top of the atmosphere", Grover says. That calm will break at 11:41 a.m., when the spacecraft pivots and presents its heat shield to the atmosphere. It's also taking over NY with the landing set to be shown on big screens in Times Square. InSight's landing design is nearly the same as a successful Phoenix spacecraft landing carried out back in 2008.

The MarCO spacecraft hitched a ride with InSight.

Cubesats are now being used at NASA to test new technologies.

A pair of briefcase-size satellites trailing InSight since liftoff in May will try to relay its radio signals to Earth, with a potential lag time of under nine minutes. Mission managers wanted a boring spot - they want the probe to sit quietly.

The mission will allow scientists to uncover detailed information about the Red Planet's interior.

Scientists expect to see a dozen to 100 marsquakes during the mission, producing data to help them deduce the depth, density and composition of the planet's core, the rocky mantle surrounding it, and the outermost layer, the crust.

The mission is expected to last about two Earth years.

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