OUT OF THIS WORLD | What's New in Space – The Biggest News Coming to Earth from Space
Meteorologist / Science Writer
Monday, November 26, 2018, 1:32 p.m. – NASA's InSight landing module should land on Red Planet at about 3:00 PM ET on Monday. See how to attend this historic event anywhere in the world!
The day finally arrived!
After more than six months of traveling through interplanetary space since its launch on May 5, NASA's InSight module is rapidly approaching Mars, and is on its way to its Seven Minutes of Terror!
After a white-knuckled dive into the atmosphere of Mars, completely controlled by Lander himself, without help from home, InSight's touchdown on the Elysium Planitia should happen around 3pm. ET (12 p.m. PT).
While The Weather Network is on-site at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory during this event (and you can follow Scott in @ScottWx_TWN on Twitter for your live comments), you do not need to be present to experience anticipation.
Watch below for ongoing NASA InSight content with live coverage of Mission Control of Mars landing starting at 2pm. ET (11h PT)
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
Much like what Mars Curiosity has gone through, more than six years ago, InSight is set to plunge into the atmosphere of Mars, traveling at 21,200 km / h, and has about seven minutes to decelerate to a speed of almost zero km / h, to gently touch the surface of the Red Planet.
How will it be? Exactly what steps will the Lander have to take, alone, without direct guidance from home, even if something goes wrong?
Watch below how Rob Manning, chief engineer of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explains the critical steps of the InSight landing.
The anxiety that the landing crew goes through during this event is why it is known as the Seven Minutes of Terror. What if anything going badly, there is nothing they can do, and it could mean a disaster for the probe!
At the same time, however, the engineering team has the utmost confidence that they have given InSight every chance and advantage of its surface travel. It only takes a bit of luck, too, that the probe does not experience anything unexpected, down the road.
How will the team know what's happening with InSight?
It would be great if we had a live view of the probe or, better yet, of the lander, all the way from space to surface. Unfortunately, however, we are not quite up to this level of technology.
What we will see, with a delay of about 8 minutes due to the distance between Mars and the Earth, is the team in the Entry, Descent and Landing Control Room (EDL), receiving messages that InSight sends back from Mars.
Want to watch from the middle of the action? Click below to access the 360-degree camera feed directly from the EDL control room!
In space, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will track the progress of InSight to the surface, however, it was not designed to relay these messages in real time. Instead, it will hold that data for 3 hours before sending what you recorded back to Earth. Mars Odyssey will pass through the landing zone, with its cameras pointed down to capture if the probe has implanted its solar panels, however, will not send this information until 5 hours after the landing.
It's the Mars Cube One twin spacecraft, the MarCO-A and MarCO-B the size of a folder (dubbed "EVE" and "Wall-E") that will keep us updated in a timely manner about how InSight is performing. .
Artistic rendering of the MarCO-A and MarCO-B cubes, flying through space to Mars. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
These two, who accompanied InSight to Mars, will pick up the radio signals from the probe and propel them back to Earth. It will be just a series of tones that they send back – the simplest form of information, so the probe can stay focused on its main job of getting to the surface intact – but engineers here know how to interpret the meaning of those tones.
It is expected that the transmitted final tone, which will soon be followed by a basic low-resolution image of the probe's surroundings, will arrive at NASA around 3:00 p.m. ET on Monday (or at 12 noon PT).
For an added bonus, the MarCO team will try to take pictures of InSight during the landing, but are not sure if it will actually see anything. We simply have not done anything like MarCO's mission before, so the results are still uncertain!
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Even though NASA engineers have given InSight all they need for a safe landing, unforeseen circumstances can cause them to fail.
Still, according to Bruce Banerdt, InSight's Principal Investigator, not everything is necessarily lost if they do not receive the final tone.
While this may mean something very bad for the mission, at this point it can easily be that the landing module is simply in "Safe Mode" – a state in which the probe computer has some kind of fault and although it is seated, safe on the surface, the computer needs to be diagnosed and restarted before the mission can continue.
So if that final tone is not heard, they will have to wait for the data that MRO and Odyssey send to confirm the status of the probe, whether it survived or not, and opened the solar panels.
Tune in on Monday to see what happens!
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