By Lynn Rusk
After a seven-month journey NASA’s InSight spacecraft is due to land on Mars today.
Signals from the probe confirming its safe touchdown should be received at 19.53 GMT.
The Insight mission was launched on the 5th May and on the journey’s completion it will have cruised 301,223,981 miles (484,773,006 km) at a top speed of 6,200 mph (10,000 kph).
What is unique about this specific mission is that this will be the first probe dedicated to understanding Mars’s interior.
“We’ve studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbour as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system.”
Like previous missions to the Red Planet, InSight must survive for the initial seven minutes – the time it takes for a probe entering Mars’ thin atmosphere at hypersonic speed to slow to walking pace and gently put itself on the ground.
Assuming it lands in one piece, InSight is programmed to take a quick picture of its immediate surroundings. This could come back within the first 30 minutes on the surface.
NASA has two main scientific goals for this mission: firstly to understand the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets through investigation of the interior structure and processes of Mars and secondly to determine the present level of tectonic activity and meteorite impact rate on Mars.
The reason scientists are so interested in learning about Mars’s interior is that although we have a very good understanding of the Earth’s interior; Mars will give researchers a different perspective on how a rocky planet can be assembled and evolve through time.
NASA are nervously anticipating a safe landing for the InSight craft later on today.