After seven months of spaceflight—and a decade of planning—NASA’s Mars InSight robotic lander is scheduled to complete its 300-million-mile journey (480 million kilometers) and touch down on the Red Planet today (Nov. 26).
While past missions have studied Mars from orbit and its surface, this expedition will give scientists a deeper understanding of the geology and history of the planet—and perhaps of our own as well.
The Lockheed Martin-built lander lifted off in May from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.
How to watch the Mars InSight landing
NASA TV will broadcast the landing between 2pm and 3:30pm US Eastern Time (11am to 12:30pm PST) today (Nov. 26). The landing is expected around 3pm ET.
You can watch on NASA TV’s YouTube channel or follow a raw livestream from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is leading the mission. The landing will also be broadcast from NASA’s Facebook page and streamed on Twitch. If you want to join other people in watching, more than 80 science centers, libraries, and other locations around the US are hosting viewing parties. If you’re in Times Square in New York, it’ll be broadcast on the Nasdaq screen.
How will they know the touchdown was successful?
The landing is challenging: The InSight will use a combination of heat shields, parachutes, and thrusters to rapidly slow from 13,200 miles per hour (21,000 kilometers per hour) to 5.5 mph (9 km/h) in seven minutes.
The team on Earth will be listening for signals that confirm touchdown, but they’ll be relayed through other spacecraft, including two small “cubesats” that are following the lander, meaning it could be a few seconds or several hours till they’re received.
When the Insight lands, it will send out a tone that radio telescopes on Earth will try and detect. Shortly after that it’ll send out another one from a more powerful antenna that ought to be pointed at Earth, and which will only be received if the Insight is stable and working properly. It’ll probably take about five hours from the landing to figure out if the lander was able to deploy its solar arrays—vital for it to function. That confirmation might come courtesy of the 2001 Space Odyssey, which has been orbiting Mars for 17 years.
InSight is the first mission NASA has sent to Mars since 2013. After it lands and sets up the solar arrays, its robotic arm will spend a few months setting up instruments to study Mars from the inside.
These include a seismometer developed by France’s space agency, which will be covered with a dome to protect it from winds and vibration, and will “take the pulse” for the planet, listening for “Marsquakes.” “We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. It’s been 130 years since the first seismic record on Earth and almost 50 years since a seismometer was placed on the Moon during the Apollo program,” said Philippe Lognonné, the seismograph team’s principal investigator, according to NASA.
Meanwhile, a probe built by the German space agency will measure the temperature of the planet.
Two years from now, NASA hopes to launch another mission to the planet, a rover called Mars 2020.