Over this long Thanksgiving weekend, there is sure to be lots of watching favorite football teams score touchdowns across the country, but NASA is looking forward to a touchdown of a different sort on Monday. NASA has announced that its Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations or InSight lander is set for a soft touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet on November 26.
During the holiday weekend, NASA engineers won’t be feasting on turkey alone; they will also be watching the stream of data from the spacecraft to ensure that the lander is healthy and remains on course for landing. The team will also be monitoring the weather on Mars to ensure that nature won’t affect the landing of InSight.
It’s been a very long trip for InSight having lifted off on May 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The team says that so far the flight to Mars has been uneventful with no issues noted. The most challenging part of the entire mission lies ahead because landing on Mars is no easy task.
When InSight first enters Mars’ atmosphere, the craft will be traveling 12,300 mph. Before the spacecraft touches the surface seven minutes later, it has to decelerate to 5 mph. The entire landing process is pre-programmed with no assistance available from NASA staff on Earth.
Engineers will know in near real-time if InSight is doing well, the Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSat mission is in orbit around Mars and will relay data back to Earth from InSight. Teams at JPL and Lockheed Martin Space will be able to determine how InSight did during landing eight minutes after landing activities are complete. Once that landing is complete, the real InSight mission will begin.