NASA's InSight lander to touch down on Mars

NASA undated handout artist impression of NASA's In Sight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. The spacecraft hurtling towards Mars will be the first to study the deep interior of the planet if it survives the landing. PRESS ASSOCIATION

Unlike its roving companions, InSight will not be directly searching for signs of life on Mars.

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry", Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a press release. After months and months of travel from Earth the InSight lander is now poised to enter the martian atmosphere and touch down on the dusty surface.

Together, these instruments will use physics to study geological processes, said Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This photo was taken by the MarCO-B cubesat, showing Mars from a distance of about 310,000 miles (500,000 kilometers), according to a NASA image description. Unlike NASA's rovers, InSight is a lander created to study an entire planet from just one spot.

The unmanned spacecraft launched almost seven months ago, and is NASA's first to attempt to touch down on Earth's neighboring planet since the Curiosity rover arrived in 2012.

"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".

The combo of thousands of steps to be made by InSIght starts with just seven minutes before it reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere, when the cruise stage gets separated.

Mission InSight, construction and commissioning at a cost of $850 million, will last about two years.

While Earth's tectonics and other forces have erased most evidence of its early history, much of Mars - about one-third the size of Earth - is believed to have remained relatively static for more than 3 billion years, creating a geologic time machine for scientists.

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Two tiny spacecraft that flew with the lander to Mars were able to relay telemetry from the probe as it descended to the surface.

InSight was shooting for Elysium Planitia, a plain near the Martian equator that the InSight team hopes is as flat as a parking lot in Kansas.

Without MarCo, NASA would have had to wait several hours for the details of InSight's fate. "This is a very hard activity that has to be done automatically by the lander", he said.

"The challenge here is to explore the structure of another planet that resembles Earth", says Tilman Spohn, director of the research institute of global Berlin, "but that is the other". The Rover is expected to land on Mars Feb. 18, 2021.

InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the 21st USA -launched mission to Mars.

NASA officials say it will take two to three months for the main instruments to be deployed and put into operation. The agency also will get its first clear images of the spacecraft's landing site - a vast, flat, nearly featureless plain near the equator.

Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of space missions.

The U.S., however, has pulled off seven successful Mars landings in the past four decades, not counting InSight, with only one failed touchdown.

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