NASA's InSight Mars landing lets us play rocket scientist for a day

After years of work by the world's brightest minds, we can all experience a pinnacle of human achievement Monday when the spacecraft touches down.

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
Expertise Space, Futurism, Science and Sci-Tech, Robotics, Tech Culture Credentials
  • Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Claire Reilly
2 min read

I didn't study rocket science. My experience of shooting stuff into the sky extends to some ill-fated school projects, and I certainly wasn't invited to join the MIT Rocket Team (they still haven't returned my calls). 

But on Monday, just like everyone else around the world, I'll get a chance to live the flush-faced excitement of a rocket scientist as NASA lands its InSight mission on Mars.

Watch this: NASA's InSight sticks its Martian landing

InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) has set out to learn about the interior of the Red Planet and how it was formed, with the hope that we'll learn more about the origins of our own planet.  

It will drill deeper beneath the Martian surface than ever before to find out about Marsquakes and the interior heat of the planet. And by bouncing radio signals back and forth with Earth, it will tell us whether Mars wobbles on its orbit (ultimately telling us about the composition of the planet's core).

In this week's episode of Watch This Space, we take a look at the motivations behind the mission, and what we'll learn -- with some references to The Bachelorette thrown in, of course. 

Watch this: NASA's InSight mission is about to drill Mars

But before all the experiments start, InSight has to touch down. The calculations that go into that landing are phenomenal (just ask a NASA scientist). After six months zooming through space, the InSight lander will make its way to the Martian surface in just six minutes. It will enter the Martian atmosphere at a speed of 12,300 miles per hour (5.5 kilometers per second), at a perfectly calculated angle of 12 degrees to make sure it doesn't burn up or bounce off the atmosphere altogether.

The engineering that's gone into building the InSight spacecraft and lander is staggering, and the people behind the project -- who've been working for years to develop, launch and land this mission on another planet -- are nothing short of inspiring. But on Monday, we won't need to be scientists to be part of this.

We'll all be able to watch at home, via the internet, as humankind achieves something amazing. We'll hold our breath as InSight enters Mars' atmosphere and we wait for confirmation of a successful landing. (If you'd like an idea of what life on Mars might look like, our sister site TechRepublic has stories here and here.)

In those moments, it will be possible to feel close to the action. And I can't wait.  

You can watch InSight touch down on Monday Nov. 26 at around noon PT on NASA's website, on Twitter or on Facebook. CNET will be kicking off coverage at 11 a.m. PT (because, yes, we are that keen), including highlights from mission control

NASA's wildest rides: Extreme vehicles for Earth and beyond

See all photos

CNET's Holiday Gift Guide: The place to find the best tech gifts for 2018.

NASA turns 60: The space agency has taken humanity farther than anyone else, and it has plans to go further.