NASA is getting closer to making another landing on Mars. The space agency is scheduled to land the NASA InSight Spacecraft on Mars on Monday, November 26th. This whole event will take seven minutes and it will be one of the most defining moments for the scientists involved. The spacecraft has been en route to Mars over the last six months. The lander component of the spacecraft will start by detaching from the cruise before it makes the final journey to the “Red Planet.”
The lander is designed to look more like the re-entry capsule that was used in the 60s and the 70s for the Apollo moon missions. It’s conical with a flat and smoother bottom. The bottom protects the lander from heat as it passes through the Mars atmosphere. Landing the spacecraft on Mars or even on the moon is very complicated. The landing capsule has to maneuver its way through the atmosphere with massive speed.
Initially, NASA predicts that on average the capsule will hit 12,300 miles per hour. In order to avoid any disaster, the capsule must enter the Martian atmosphere at an angle of precisely 12 degrees. Any mishaps in this will make the space probe bounce off into deep space or possibly blow up. NASA says that the space probe will hit the Martian atmosphere for at least six and a half minutes before attempting to land.
Once it gets into the Mars atmosphere, a parachute will engage after three and a half minutes. As soon as the parachute is engaged, special explosives will then blow off the heat shield at the bottom of the conical shaped probe. This will then expose the actual space probe that will explore Mars. Seconds after the explosion the craft will extend its legs just like a plane does before it lands on the ground. The probe will take about 45 seconds once on the ground to disintegrate itself from the protective shell. The landing rockets will then ignite, marking an end to this long journey.
This entire sequence will take about seven minutes. The scientists who are in charge of the space probe will need to make sure that everything works according to the plan in order to avoid any issues. Mars hasn’t been the best place to land for space probes. In fact, scientists and engineers who design these kinds of crafts have called Mars a graveyard for space probes. So far, there have been 44 attempts by different space agencies around the world to land a space probe on Mars. 18 of them have been successful while 23 have failed. This is a success rate of roughly 40%.
NASA says that this new space probe, if it lands successfully, will not move around Mars but instead, it will stay positioned in one place. Scientists say that this static approach will help them better understand the planet’s interior. Mars is the closest planet to Earth and there have been many efforts to explore it further. So far not much information has been released about it.