'Six and a half minutes of terror' before Mars landing


The unmanned spacecraft launched almost seven months ago, and is NASA's first to attempt to touch down on Earth's neighboring planet since the Curiosity rover arrived in 2012.

After a almost seven-month deep-space journey covering more than 300 million miles (483 million kilometers), NASA's InSight lander is set to touch down on Mars today (Nov. 26) just before 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT).

NASA will provide a livestream of the landing, beginning at 11 a.m.

All being well, the InSight probe should enter the Martian atmosphere at 12,300mph before an array of 12 thrusters attempts to slow it down to 5mph for a safe touchdown. "InSight scientists can't wait to explore the heart of Mars".

NASA's first robotic lander created to study the deep interior of Mars is on course for a planned touchdown tonight after a six-month voyage through space. "It takes skill, focus and years of preparation", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

"What this helps us understand is how we got to here", said JPL's Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator, during a pre-landing briefing with reporters last week.

Out of the 44 NASA missions sent to Mars, only 18 have been successful. "It's such a hard thing, it's such a risky thing that there's always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong".

Earth's overall success rate at Mars is 40 per cent.

But the USA has pulled off seven successful Mars landings in the past three decades. - NASA is counting down to a nail-biting touchdown on November 26, 2018, of the $993 million Mars InSight, the first spacecraft to listen for quakes and study the inner workings of another rocky planet. No other country has managed to set and operate a spacecraft on the dusty red surface.

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"There is very little room for things to go wrong", said Rob Grover, head of the entry, descent and landing team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

It will touch down on a flat, smooth plain close to the planet's equator called the Elysium Planitia - a place where oddball alien hunters claim to have spotted a "crashed UFO" and an "extraterrestrial city".

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) provided a self-hammering mole that can burrow 16 feet (five meters) into the surface - further than any instrument before - to measure heat flow. Nothing like this has been attempted before at our smaller next-door neighbor, almost 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) away. No lander has dug deeper than several inches, and no seismometer has ever worked on Mars.

Mars once had flowing rivers and lakes; the deltas and lakebeds are now dry, and the planet cold.

Concentrating on planetary building blocks, InSight has no life-detecting capability. Nasa is the only space agency to have pulled off a landing on the planet, most recently in 2012 when the Curiosity rover was winched to the surface by a "sky crane".

There will also be in-person viewing parties around the world. The InSight team won't know that the stationary spacecraft's solar panels have deployed until 8:35 p.m. EST (0135 GMT) at the earliest, when NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will be in position to relay home to Earth confirmation of that milestone event.

Artist's rendering of the MarCO-A and MarCO-B cubesats, flying through space to Mars.

And you'll be able to watch this historic moment live.