NASA Looking Toward Manned Mission To Mars 'Sometime In The 2030s'

NASA Looking Toward Manned Mission To Mars 'Sometime In The 2030s'

NASA Looking Toward Manned Mission To Mars 'Sometime In The 2030s'

NASA's top scientists admitted to sleepless nights, sweaty palms, stomach aches and moments of pure terror as their $993 million Mars Insight spacecraft approaches a high-drama finale Monday: landing on Mars. Only about 40 percent of the landers and rovers sent to the red planet during the last five decades have ever made it safely down to the surface, and of the global space agencies that have tried, only NASA has succeeded in making a soft landing on Mars.

The heat probe, HP³, will drill nearly five metres beneath the surface of the planet after being deposited by InSight's robotic arm.

"There's a reason engineers call landing on Mars 'seven minutes of terror, '" Rob Grover, InSight's entry, descent and landing (EDL) lead, said.

It's still unclear exactly when NASA and JPL officials will be able to confirm that the craft has successfully landed. What we'll see is the mission control room along with all the graphs and statistics that show where the lander is and what it's doing. "Mars is hard", said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for the science mission directorate, on Sunday. The window below is counting down the seconds until the landing coverage right now and will switch over to live coverage from NASA's JPL mission control shortly before InSight begins its descent.

Entry descent and landing for the In Sight spacecraft
Enlarge Entry descent and landing for the In Sight

After six months of flight, the lander component of the probe will detach itself from the cruise stage and head into the atmosphere. It will fly through the Martian air at an initial speed of 12,300 miles per hour, and it must hit the atmosphere at an angle of precisely 12 degrees.

- Two minutes later, friction with the atmosphere raises the heat shield temperature to its peak of 2,700 Fahrenheit (1,500 Celsius). Radio signals may be briefly lost.

If successful, the entry, descent and landing of the Mars InSight - created to be the first mission to listen to the interior of another planet and reveal how rocky planets are formed - will add another success to Nasa's record when it comes to sending spacecraft to Mars.

The InSight has logged 300 million miles to get to the Red Planet since blasting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc aboard an Atlas 5 Rocket on May 5.

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Nor can mission managers intervene if anything goes awry. "Frankly, I will be a little bit nervous until I have the solar panels out", Hoffman says. "But for our perspective here on earth, we're not going to know it". These first-ever interplanetary CubeSats sport experimental antennas that will relay InSight's signal to Earth some 10 to 20 seconds after landing. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) can detect ground vibrations that are smaller than a hydrogen atom, providing an unprecedented picture of the tectonic activity and geologic shifting of Mars.

The device is due to burrow about 16 feet underground like a mole to collect heat samples and determine whether the planet has any formative characteristics similar to Earth.

Spain's Centro de Astrobiologia made the spacecraft's wind sensors.

The area is thought to be the location where InSight will have the best chance of collecting shock-wave and heat-pattern data on the planet.

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"If you were a Martian coming to explore Earth's interior like we are exploring Mars's interior, it wouldn't matter if you put down in the middle of Kansas or the beaches of Oahu", Bruce Banerdt, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. In our solar system family, Mars is Earth's next-of-kin, the next-door relative that has captivated humans for millennia.

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