NASA’s InSight Lander blasted off on May 5 on a nearly 90 million-mile journey to Mars.
On Monday, the lander is expected to touch down on the Red Planet.
But it turns out getting there was the easy part.
"There's a reason engineers call landing on Mars 'seven minutes of terror,'" Rob Grover, InSight's entry, descent and landing (EDL) lead, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a NASA post. "We can't joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-program into the spacecraft. We've spent years testing our plans, learning from other Mars landings and studying all the conditions Mars can throw at us. And we're going to stay vigilant till InSight settles into its home in the Elysium Planitia region."
NASA explains that InSight will hit the Martian atmosphere at 12,300 mph and slow down to 5 mph before its three legs touch down on Martian soil — a deceleration that takes place in just less than seven minutes.
InSight, the name of the lander, stands for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport." “The landing will kick off a two-year mission in which InSight will become the first spacecraft to study Mars' deep interior,” NASA said on its website. “Its data also will help scientists understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including our own.”
Once engineers know that the spacecraft has touched down safely in one of the several ways they have to confirm this milestone and that InSight's solar arrays have deployed properly, the team can settle into the careful, three-month-long process of deploying science instruments.
"Landing on Mars is exciting, but scientists are looking forward to the time after InSight lands," said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. "Once InSight is settled on the Red Planet and its instruments are deployed, it will start collecting valuable information about the structure of Mars' deep interior — information that will help us understand the formation and evolution of all rocky planets, including the one we call home."
"Previous missions haven't gone more than skin-deep at Mars," added Sue Smrekar, the InSight mission's deputy principal investigator at JPL. "InSight scientists can’t wait to explore the heart of Mars."
With the landing coming soon, many engineers have spent much of the Thanksgiving holiday tracking the lander.
"#HappyThanksgiving! I hope you enjoy time spent with family and friends today. If you’re looking for good dinner conversation, bring up the spacecraft that will be landing on Mars this Monday!" Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator, wrote on Twitter.
And here's a simulation of the Lander touching down.