The InSight mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and the craft first took off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base in May of this year.
InSight is NASA’s first spacecraft to be sent to Mars since the Curiosity rover back in 2012. Unlike the rover, the InSight won’t only be exploring the red planet’s surface but will actually dip below the surface by drilling down about 4.8 metres into the planet’s crust to check the temperature and also to study “marsquakes” by inserting a seismometer.
To figure out the internal structure of the red planet, the InSight will use a robotic arm to set down a packet of seismometers. These seismometers will be able to record any vibrations detected in the ground caused by things like the movement of tectonic plates, volcanic activity, meteorites, or seismic activity of a different kind.
Business Insider explains why Mars isn’t an easy landing site. The atmosphere is only 1% as thick as Earth’s, which makes it harder to slow down and easier to burn up during the entry. Considering that only about a third of the missions launched to Mars survive the landing, it would seem that the odds are stacked against the team executing the landing, but modifications have been made to the InSight lander that will make things easier. Among these are a stronger parachute, better avionics, and an improved heat shield. All of this will go a long way in ensuring the spacecraft’s safe entry into the Martian atmosphere and a safe touchdown, as well as keeping it safe during its two-year mission.
InSight is set to collect data on Mars until at least November 2020 and the data it collects will help scientist learn more about how the inside of the planet compares to our own.
The landing itself won’t be broadcasted, but there will be live views of mission control, as well as updates, expert commentary, and an animated step-by-step of InSight’s descent. You can watch the official live stream on NASA JPL’s channel starting around 21PM SAST today, Monday the 26th of November.