NASA just weeks away from its next Mars landing

The upcoming mission will attempt to plumb the depths and hidden mysteries of our nearest planetary neighbor.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
2 min read
Watch this: NASA's Mars InSight Mission briefing highlights
Enlarge Image

A rendering of Mars InSight on the surface of the Red Planet.


NASA says it's going to land the Mars InSight lander on the surface of the Red Planet in a few weeks, no matter what.

InSight launched from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 5 along with a pair of experimental cubesats dubbed MarCO that will act as communications relays during the spacecraft's descent to the surface on Nov. 26.

InSight project manager Tom Hoffman told reporters on Wednesday that due to the craft's ballistic entry trajectory, touchdown on the surface will occur at 11:47 a.m. PT that day "regardless of anything."

The lander, which is designed to stay in one place and study the interior of Mars including potential "Marsquakes," will arrive in the midst of dust storm season so engineers included extra thermal protection to compensate for the craft's short but dramatic trip through the thin Martian atmosphere.

In the video below, Rob Manning, chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, breaks down how the seven-minute journey from the top of Mars' atmosphere to the ground will go:

Basically, InSight's "cruise stage" will drop the lander covered by an aeroshell into the atmosphere. The vehicle will deploy a supersonic parachute and drop its heat shield while slowing from 12,300 miles per hour (19,795 km/h) all the way down to 5 mph just before landing when retro rockets will fire to ensure a soft touch down.

InSight will be landing in a large flat part of the planet called Elysium Planitia, hopefully in a section that looks like a parking lot with few rocks, according to Hoffman.

While NASA will be streaming live coverage of the landing Nov. 26, don't expect any epic views of the landing like we've become accustomed to with SpaceX Falcon 9 recoveries. The two cameras on board Insight won't snap their first pictures until after the dust from landing has cleared. 

It might be possible for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to snap a picture of Insight and its deployed parachute during descent, but that's probably the best view we can hope for of the landing process. 

Nonetheless, all those live shots of tense moments from mission control will make it worth tuning in on Nov. 26.

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