Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
The space agency’s InSight lander will be descending 80 miles through the Martian atmosphere on Monday.
Having traveled more than 89 million miles since its launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base back in May, the ambitious spacecraft is currently on track to reach Mars on November 26th.
Actually getting the probe safely on to the Martian surface however is no easy task – it has to slow from 12,300mph to just 5mph during a make-or-break descent referred to as ‘7 minutes of terror’.
“Landing on Mars is hard. It takes skill, focus and years of preparation,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“Keeping in mind our ambitious goal to eventually send humans to the surface of the Moon and then Mars, I know that our incredible science and engineering team – the only in the world to have successfully landed spacecraft on the Martian surface – will do everything they can to successfully land InSight on the Red Planet.”
If InSight does survive the descent, the $1 billion lander will attempt to learn more about what lies beneath the surface of the Red Planet using an array of instruments including a burrowing temperature sensor and a seismometer designed to detect Marsquakes.
“This mission will probe the interior of another terrestrial planet, giving us an idea of the size of the core, the mantle, the crust and our ability then to compare that with the Earth,” said NASA chief scientist Jim Green.
“This is of fundamental importance to understand the origin of our solar system and how it became the way it is today.”