NASA's InSight lander will touch down on Mars today

After seven months of traveling through space, the NASA InSight lander will land on Mars and begin its permanent residence on Monday. The spacecraft is expec...

Posted: Nov 26, 2018 2:52 PM

After seven months of traveling through space, the NASA InSight lander will land on Mars and begin its permanent residence on Monday. The spacecraft is expected to land at 3 pm EST.

InSight, or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is going to explore a part of Mars that we know the least about: its deep interior. It launched May 5. InSight will spend two years investigating the interior where the building blocks below the planet's surface that recorded its history.

When it lands, InSight will have cruised 301,223,981 miles at a top speed of 6,200 mph, while being followed by two cube satellites. The suitcase-size spacecraft, called MarCO, are the first cube satellites to fly into deep space. MarCO will try to share data about InSight when it enters the Martian atmosphere for the landing.

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry," said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbor as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system."

NASA will provide live coverage from mission control, and there are landing watch parties around the world. In 2012, there were similar events to celebrate the Mars Curiosity rover's landing.

The landing

InSight will robotically guide itself through the landing, outside of a few last minute tweaks by the entry, descent and landing team to the algorithm that guides the lander to the surface.

The landing itself is a tricky maneuver. NASA engineers don't call it "seven minutes of terror" for nothing. In less time than it takes to hard-boil an egg, InSight will have to slowed from 12,300 mph to 5 mph before it gently lands on the surface of Mars, according to NASA.

"While most of the country was enjoying Thanksgiving with their family and friends, the InSight team was busy making the final preparations for Monday's landing," said Tom Hoffman of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who is InSight's project manager. "Landing on Mars is difficult and takes a lot of personal sacrifices, such as missing the traditional Thanksgiving, but making InSight successful is well worth the extraordinary effort."

Only 40% of missions sent to the Red Planet by any agency have been successful. Part of this is due to the thin Martian atmosphere, which is only 1% of Earth's, so there's nothing to slow down something trying to land on the surface.

Like the Phoenix spacecraft, InSight will have a parachute and retro rockets to slow its descent through the atmosphere, and three legs suspended from the lander will try to absorb the shock of touching down on the surface.

But the engineers prepared the spacecraft to land during a dust storm if need be.

About 20 minutes before landing, InSight will separate from the cruise stage that helped bring it all the way to Mars and turn to position itself for entering the atmosphere.

At 2:47 pm ET, the entry, descent and landing phase is set to begin, and InSight will come blazing into the atmosphere at 12,300 mph. Peak heating of the protective heat shield will reach 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit two minutes later, which then decelerates. This is when the intense heat could cause temporary drops in the radio signal from the craft.

Then, the parachute will deploy, the craft will separate from the heat shield, deploy its three legs and activate radar to sense how far it is from the ground. After getting that radar signal, it will separate from the remaining shell and parachute, firing its descent engines known as retrorockets to help slow it down even more.

In ballet-like fashion, InSight will do a gravity turn to make sure the lander is in the right position before touching down. It will slow down until it reaches a consistent 5 mph. Then, it will touch down at 2:54 pm ET.

At 3:01 pm ET, InSight should send a signal to let scientists on Earth know that it's alive and well.

"It's taken more than a decade to bring InSight from a concept to a spacecraft approaching Mars — and even longer since I was first inspired to try to undertake this kind of mission," said Bruce Banerdt of JPL and InSight's principal investigator. "But even after landing, we'll need to be patient for the science to begin."

What happens next

InSight's science mission won't begin right away. It will take between two to three months for the robotic arm to place the mission's instruments on the surface. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment.

But on Tuesday afternoon, we may get the first image back from InSight of its new home on the surface of Mars. And Tuesday night, the Mars Odyssey orbiter should confirm that the spacecraft's solar arrays have unfurled.

InSight will be landing at Elysium Planitia, called "the biggest parking lot on Mars" by astronomers. Because it won't be roving over the surface, the landing site was an important determination. This spot is open, flat safe and boring, which is what the scientists want for a stationary two-year mission.

After landing, InSight will unfurl its solar panels and robotic arm and study the entire planet from its parking spot. It's along the Martian equator, bright and warm enough to power the lander's solar array year-round.

The suite of geophysical instruments on InSight sounds like a doctor's bag, giving Mars its first "checkup" since it formed. Together, those instruments will take measurements of Mars' vital signs, like its pulse, temperature and reflexes -- which translates to internal activity like seismology and the planet's wobble as the sun and its moons tug on Mars.

These instruments include the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structures to investigate what causes the seismic waves on Mars the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package to burrow beneath the surface and determine heat flowing out of the planet and the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment to use radios to study the planet's core.

"Landing on Mars is exciting, but scientists are looking forward to the time after InSight lands," said Glaze. "Once InSight is settled on the Red Planet and its instruments are deployed, it will start collecting valuable information about the structure of Mars' deep interior — information that will help us understand the formation and evolution of all rocky planets, including the one we call home."

West Lafayette
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 61°
Kokomo
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 57°
Rensselaer
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 55°
Fowler
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 57°
Williamsport
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 54°
Crawfordsville
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 50°
Frankfort
Overcast
52° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 52°
Delphi
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 55°
Monticello
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 55°
Logansport
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 54°
Very Warm, Then Rainfall Potential, Followed by Much Cooler Weather
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 113337

Reported Deaths: 3530
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion20936761
Lake10334319
Elkhart6438109
St. Joseph6226103
Allen6060200
Hamilton4761109
Vanderburgh349430
Hendricks2681122
Monroe251236
Tippecanoe231213
Johnson2279123
Clark215756
Porter209046
Cass19339
Delaware189561
Vigo178524
Madison161075
LaPorte138239
Floyd132161
Howard129063
Warrick122336
Kosciusko120617
Bartholomew115357
Marshall99424
Dubois95918
Boone95646
Hancock91443
Grant89733
Noble89432
Henry78125
Wayne74714
Jackson7429
Morgan70638
Shelby66629
Daviess65428
Dearborn63928
LaGrange63211
Clinton59513
Harrison56424
Putnam53810
Lawrence50628
Montgomery50521
Knox5039
Gibson4894
White48214
DeKalb46311
Decatur45739
Miami4303
Greene41935
Fayette41813
Jasper3862
Steuben3747
Scott35910
Sullivan33112
Jennings31212
Posey3090
Franklin30325
Clay2985
Orange28624
Ripley2828
Carroll27113
Wabash2628
Washington2611
Whitley2556
Starke2537
Adams2523
Wells2503
Jefferson2443
Fulton2352
Huntington2223
Spencer2223
Tipton22022
Perry21513
Randolph2097
Jay1750
Newton17211
Owen1671
Martin1640
Rush1534
Pike1411
Vermillion1260
Fountain1202
Pulaski1151
Blackford1133
Brown1033
Crawford1030
Parke961
Benton880
Ohio777
Union770
Switzerland690
Warren391
Unassigned0225

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events