At a speed of 19,800 kilometers per hour, the Mars InSight spacecraft is approaching Mars, where it must land on Monday to begin its mission: to hear earthquakes and study the inner workings of the rocky planet.
The ship must survive the difficult entry into the atmosphere of the red planet and the task of rapidly reducing its speed to only 8 kilometers per hour.
The US $ 993 million unmanned spacecraft was launched nearly seven months ago (May 5) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and traveled about 482 million kilometers. Part of his mission is to report on efforts to send some human scouts to the red planet, which NASA hopes to reach in 2030.
The landing on Mars is the first since 2012, when the explorer of Curiosity of the
NASA landed on the surface and analyzed the rocks for signs of life that could have inhabited the planet near Earth, now frozen and dry.
The entry, descent and landing phase will begin this Monday at 19:47 GMT (14:47, Colombian time). Half jokingly, at NASA they alluded to this stage as the "six and a half minutes of terror."
Its central instrument is an earthquake detection seismograph that was developed by the French Space Agency (CNES).
The six earthquake sensors on board are so sensitive they should reveal the smallest tremors on Mars, such as the weak traction of its moon Phobos, the impacts of meteors, and possibly the evidence of volcanic activity.
"It is the first mission that will study the deep interior of Mars," said Fernando Abilleira, deputy director of design and navigation at InSight. "By studying the propagation of waves below the surface of Mars through its seismograph, we will have more information on how the planet has evolved over the past 3,000 million years," he added.
Seismology taught mankind a lot about Earth's formation, about 4.5 billion years ago, but much of Earth's evidence was lost with the recycling of the crust, propelled by plate tectonics. This process does not exist on Mars.
The other tool that stands out is the Physical Properties and Heat Flow (HP3) probe, built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which will be deployed on Martian soil about 5 meters deep to provide the first accurate measurement of underground temperatures on Mars and the amount of heat escaping from inside.
The InSight landing will be cushioned by a parachute. Your heat shield will help to decelerate the ship and protect it from the friction entering the atmosphere of the red planet.
The landing site is a flat area called Elysium Planitia, which NASA called "the largest parking lot on Mars".
NASA will know in minutes if the landing was successful or not, but will have to wait more than five hours to confirm the deployment of the equipment.
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 Science Missions Board.
"The exciting part is that we are building the success of the best team that has ever landed on this planet, which is the NASA team with their contractors and their collaborators," he added.
Other probe details
The name InSight is derived from & # 39; Internal exploration using seismic investigations, geodesy & heat transport & # 39 ;. The spacecraft stops about a meter from the surface and once it implants its solar panels, it will extend for almost 6 meters and, with full load of fuel, weighs more than 360 kg, almost the same as a motorcycle Harley Davidson.
AFP and EFE