After a trip to Mars for half a year, NASA's spacecraft will have its famous "six and a half minutes of terror", in which you must deploy a parachute and the descent propellers to avoid collisions. If all goes according to plan, it will decelerate to only 2.24 meters per second and will put the pillow legs on the red planet to study its interior. The descent is scheduled for Monday.
Another possibility does not enter the head of Tom Hoffman, project manager. "The team has been working hard for several years and is ready for this moment, and we can put all of our preparation into action", he summed up.
The entrance door to the probe will be a rectangle of 10 x 24 kilometers. A goal that, compared to the 479 million kilometers required by the crossing, is for scientists, in the metaphor of football, "How to make a goal of 130,000 km". During the first 25 seconds of approach, InSight will discard its heat shield and one minute before touching the Martian desert, it will use its radar to detect ground speed and distance.
Despite the optimism, the uncertainties exist and are well-founded: only 40% of the missions sent by different space agencies to the uncontrollable Mars were successful. For this reason, accuracy will be important to enter, but also aerodynamic factors, such as the drag the ship will experience, and atmospheric variables, such as wind speed and atmospheric density.
Although the InSight features the American space agency has a big plus: it could choose a friendly surface, which they called "the largest parking lot on Mars", the plains of the Elysium Planitia. Also, the ship, which with a total fuel load weighs over 360 pounds and cost about $ 1 billion, was prepared by engineers to land in a dust storm if necessary. "As soon as it arrives, the Earth team will begin the process to select the best places to put the scientific instruments", the specialist described.
The mission will seek to study for the first time the interior of the red planet with two main instruments. The seismograph, which will monitor and analyze soil vibrations caused by earthquakes and meteorite impacts. And a thermal flow probe that will penetrate 15 times more into the ground than any previous hardware, to accurately determine the amount of heat escaping from your guts.
For NASA, it will be a check to measure the "Vital signs" of Mars through its pulse (seismology) and its temperature (heat flow). "The engineers will have time to decide next steps, and once the instruments are in place, InSight will spend the next Martian year (26 months on Earth) to monitor these signals," Hoffman said.
In addition, special cameras will produce high-quality color images and, if that were not enough, two spacecrafts called Mars Cube One will be flying behind InSight and will try to transmit data and open up a new way of communicating with Earth.
Why investigate the interior of Mars? Decades ago and several reports have established that this should be one of the scientific priorities, and although in the following years several missions have been proposed, none have flown successfully. That is why the international expectation for Monday: in addition to the vital participation of the French and German space agencies that provided the main instruments, the United Kingdom, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Poland also collaborated.
It is that, studying the deep interior of Mars, we can learn how other rocky planets, like the Earth and the Moon, were formed. In short, it is a close relative, created from the same primordial elements, more than 4,500 million years ago.
What we learn from this cold, rocky desert world could clarify our very existence. And above all, it will be decisive to realize one of the great dreams of the march in the history of the conquest of the space: to send in the next years a human explorer to the Martian surface.
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