Nasa’s latest Mars craft nears landing for unprecedented seismic mission

asa’s first spacecraft built to explore the deep interior of another world streaked toward a landing scheduled for Monday on a vast, barren plain on Mars, carrying instruments to detect planetary heat and seismic rumblings never measured anywhere but Earth.

After sailing 301 million miles (548 million km) on a six-month voyage through deep space, the robotic lander InSight was due to touch down on the dusty, rock-strewn surface of the Red Planet at about 8 pm GMT.

If all goes according to plan, InSight will hurtle through the top of the thin Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour (19,310 kilometers per hour). Slowed by friction, deployment of a giant parachute and retro rockets, InSight will descend 77 miles through pink Martian skies to the surface in 6 1/2 minutes, traveling a mere 5 mph (8 kph) by the time it lands.

The stationary probe, launched in May from California, will then pause for 16 minutes for the dust to settle, literally, around its landing site, before disc-shaped solar panels are unfurled like wings to provide power to the spacecraft.

The mission control team at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles hopes to receive real-time confirmation of the craft’s arrival from data relayed by a pair of miniature satellites that were launched along with InSight and will be flying past Mars.The JPL controllers also expect to receive a photograph of the probe’s new surroundings on the flat, smooth Martian plain close to the planet’s equator called the Elysium Planitia. (Photo: REUTERS/Gene Blevnis)

The JPL controllers also expect to receive a photograph of the probe’s new surroundings on the flat, smooth Martian plain close to the planet’s equator called the Elysium Planitia.

The site is roughly 373 miles (600 km) from the 2012 landing spot of the car-sized Mars rover Curiosity, the last spacecraft sent to the Red Planet by Nasa.

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. Nearly two dozen other Mars missions have been sent from other nations.

 

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