This is the first Mars landing to take place since the Curiosity rover was lowered onto the rocky terrain of Gusev Crater more than six years ago. On Nov. 26, NASA's Mars InSight lander will touch down on the Red Planet at 3 p.m. EST.
The smaller, 880-pound (360 kg) InSight - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st US-launched Mars missions, dating back to the Mariner fly-bys of the 1960s.
If successful, the Lander will become the space agency's first probe to reach the Red Planet in six years. The beauty of this mission is happening below the surface. But before InSight sets to work, the craft must first survive a devilishly hard landing. When the capsule hits the atmosphere, it will be traveling at 12,300 miles per hour.
In recent days, NASA has been commanding the spacecraft to make minor course corrections to ensure InSight enters the Martian atmosphere at the proper angle to within about a quarter of a degree. Any shallower, and the probe will bounce off into deep space. Any steeper and the probe will burn up. A flight version of the Instrument Context Camera (ICC) that took this image is expected to take InSight's first image on Mars. Were the probe a 150-pound human, during the flaming descent, it would weigh almost a ton. The heat shield then gets blown away via explosive devices, 15 seconds after the chute inflates.
In addition, two mini-spacecraft have been following InSight.
The InSight probe is scheduled to arrive on Martian soil at around 8pm GMT on Monday, scientists said.
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As it goes through those steps, two mini satellites known as the Mars Cube One or MarCO satellites will be riding shotgun, relaying signals at each phase back to ground stations on Earth.
PALCA: That's because it's a 6.5-minute ride to the surface, but it takes a radio signal longer than that to reach Mars, so real-time control is out of the question.
The site chosen for InSight is called Elysium Planitia. Eighteen have been successful.
A further three achieved orbit but failed to land. Scientists hope that InSight will uncover signs of tectonic activity and clues about the planet's past. Well, as it happens, a lot. InSight will not move around.
The goal is to map the inside of Mars in three dimensions, "so we understand the inside of Mars as well as we have come to understand the outside of Mars", Banerdt told reporters.
One thing it will do is emit radio waves that we can monitor on Earth.
The seismometer will measure Marsquakes - subtle vibrations caused by internal rumblings, meteorites smashing into the planet or dust storms whipping across the surface, explains Katarina Miljkovic, an Australian-based scientist on the project.