Posted at 11:47 pm ET November 23, 2018
What will it take for NASA's InSight spacecraft to land on Mars?
NASA, Florida today
CAPE CANAVERAL – Mars has the bad habit of living by its mythological name and surpassing the Earth when it accepts visitors.
NASA's InSight is the latest spacecraft to come calling, with all the intentions of landing and digging deeper into the planet than anything that has ever happened before. The lander arrives on Mars on Monday after a six-month journey.
"We've had several successful landings in a row now. But you never know what Mars is going to get at you, "said Rob Grover, chief engineer of the landing team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Landing on Mars is always risky, Grover and other experts emphasize every opportunity.
NASA's InSight mission, which will study the interior of Mars, was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on an Atlas V rocket at 7:05 am EDT on Saturday, May 5, 2018.
"Our job on the landing team is to be paranoid about what could go wrong and make sure we're doing everything we can to make sure things work properly," he said.
The numbers confirm it. Only about 40 percent of all missions to Mars – named after the Roman god of war – succeeded.
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"Going to Mars is very, very difficult," NASA senior scientist Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters earlier this week. "Like humanity, exploiters around the world, we're beating about 50% – or less."
The United States is the only country successfully operating a spacecraft on the Martian surface. InSight represents NASA's ninth attempt to put a spacecraft on Mars; only one effort failed.
The SLC-3 mobile service tower was designed to reveal the United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Atlas-V rocket with the NASA InSight spacecraft, Friday, May 4, 2018, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. (Photo: NASA / Bill Ingalls)
The latest – NASA's Curiosity rover – is still on the move after six years with more than 12 miles (20 kilometers) on its odometer. The smaller and older Opportunity of the space agency was circulating there until June, when a global dust storm put it out of commission. Flight controllers have not lost hope that it will be revived.
The nearly 60-year-old Humanity story of trying to reach Mars includes attempts to fly past the red planet to take non-stop photos, as well as the much more complicated efforts to put spacecraft into orbit around the red planet and actually land.
NASA's Mariner 4 performed the first successful passage of the red planet in 1965, sending back 21 photos.
Mariner 9 entered orbit around Mars and received more than 7,000 photos.
And NASA's Vikings 1 and 2 not only put the spacecraft into orbit on Mars in 1976, but also on the surface. The Vikings twins were the first successful landers on Mars on planet Earth.
The 90s were not kind to NASA. A humiliating metric conversion conversion in English condemned the Mars Observer in 1993. Another American orbiter was later lost, as well as a landing module and two tracking probes designed to penetrate the surface.
An overview of NASA's Mars InSight mission, which will arm scientists with more information about how Mars – and other planets – formed.
Despite decades of attempts, Russia in particular has had very bad luck on Mars.
The then Soviet Union was the first to attempt to fly over Mars in 1960. The spacecraft never reached the orbit of Earth. After more flight failures and crashes, the Soviets finally landed a pair of spacecraft in orbit on Mars in 1971 and retrieved actual data. But landing partners were a total failure.
And so it was for the Soviets / Russians through their latest attempt with China in 2011. The intimidating goal was to land a spacecraft on the moon of Mars, Phobos, to collect and return samples, and place a second spacecraft in orbit of Mars. Neither of them managed to get out of Earth orbit.
Europe was also bitten by snakes on Mars, as was Japan.
While the European Space Agency has satellites working around Mars, both attempts to land have failed. Just two years ago, his lander hit the surface so quickly that he dug a crater. Japan's only spacecraft, launched in 1998, did not orbit.
India, in turn, operates a satellite around Mars four years ago, its first and only shot on the red planet.
There is a strong European presence in NASA's InSight. Germany is responsible for the mechanical mole designed to excavate 5 meters on the Martian surface to conduct underground heat measurements, while France directs the earthquake monitoring seismograph of the probe.
On the surface, Curiosity is the only thing that operates on Mars. Currently in orbit: U.S. Odyssey since 2001, Europa Mars Express (2003), USA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2006), USA Maven (2014), Mangalyaan orbiter India (2014) and Europe Trace Gas Orbiter (2016).
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