NASA is counting down to the Mars InSight landing on Mars, something to happen next Monday. The cost of the probe was $ 993 million and is the first to hear earthquakes and study the inner workings of another rocky planet.
The unmanned spacecraft was launched almost seven months ago and traveled about 482 million kilometers.
Part of his mission is to convey information to send human explorers one day to the red planet, something NASA hopes to achieve in the 2030s.
The spacecraft landing on Mars is the first since 2012, when NASA explorer Curiosity landed on the surface and analyzed the rocks for signs of life that may have inhabited the planet, now cold and dry.
InSight must survive the difficult entry into the atmosphere of the Red Planet: it is currently traveling at a speed of 19,800 kilometers per hour and, once inside, must reduce it rapidly to only 8 kilometers per hour.
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The entry, descent and landing phase will begin at 5:47 p.m. on Monday (local time). NASA refers to this stage as the "six and a half minutes of terror".
Of the 43 missions launched on Mars, only 18 reached the Red Planet, a success rate of about 40%, and all came from the United States.
"Going to Mars is very, very difficult," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Directorate of Science Missions.
The unmanned ship.
The name InSight translates to "inner exploration", which refers to seismic investigations, geodesy and heat transport.
With full fuel load, the InSight weighs over 360 kg, almost the same as a Harley Davidson motorcycle. If you deploy your solar panels, you can measure almost 6 meters.
Its central instrument is an earthquake detection seismograph that was made by the French Space Agency (CNES).
"This is NASA's only mission conceived around a foreign instrument," Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of CNES, told AFP.
For this reason, he added, "it is a fundamental mission for both the United States and France," because it will allow Mars to be better understood.
The six earthquake sensors on board are so sensitive they should reveal the smallest tremors on Mars, such as the slight attraction of its moon Phobos, the impacts of meteors and possibly the evidence of volcanic activity.
The ship also has a self-hammered probe that allows excavation to a depth of 3 to 5 meters and will allow the first accurate measurement of ground temperatures on Mars as well as the amount of heat escaping from the interior
The InSight landing will be cushioned by a parachute that will allow the speed of the unmanned spacecraft to drop to 19,800 km / h. Your thermal shield will help to slow the ship and protect it from the friction that will generate its entry into the atmosphere of the red planet.
The landing site will be in a flat area called Elysium Planitia, which NASA described as "the largest parking lot of Mars".
The US space agency will know in minutes if the landing was successful or not, but will have to wait more than five hours to confirm that the unmanned spacecraft has successfully deployed the equipment.
They will look for signs of life on the red planet
A NASA spacecraft, which will begin in 2020, will seek clues about the existence of life on Mars by analyzing the rocks of an ancient lake and a delta, two geographic features that could preserve signs of ancient organisms reported a few days ago. the American space agency.
The ship will land in a crater that was 45 kilometers in diameter, which was once home to a river, so it could have preserved signs of organic molecules and microbes, experts said.