Today NASA will attempt its eighth successful landing of a robot on the red planet by venturing to place its InSight lander—a spacecraft almost 10 years and nearly one billion dollars in the making—as gently as possible on the vast planes of Mars’ Elysium Planitia.
But a soft touchdown is far from guaranteed. The 1500-pound robot will enter the planet’s atmosphere around 12:00 PST in excess of 12,000 miles per hour, its protective aeroshell shielding it from heat-generating friction and treacherous sandstorms on its descent toward the Martian surface. Yet the planet’s thin atmosphere can only slow the spacecraft so much; InSight will also deploy a 39-foot-wide supersonic parachute and activate its descent thrusters to decelerate to just five miles per hour before finally plopping down on its shock-absorbing legs.
An uneventful arrival is crucial to protecting the spacecraft’s cargo. Short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport, InSight’s scientific payload includes an exquisitely sensitive suite of seismometers (for sensing Marsquakes), an 18-inch self-burrowing heat probe (for taking the planet’s temperature), and a five-fingered grappling arm for placing both of the instruments on the planet’s surface. Should any of that equipment become damaged during entry, descent, or landing, it could threaten InSight’s ability to investigate Mars’ interior for clues about its formation, evolution, and composition.
If all goes well, mission control could know shortly after noon PST whether InSight has landed safely on Martian soil. Tune in here beginning Monday morning to catch the action on two live feeds from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The first, below, will feature live interviews with mission experts between 3:00 am and 7:00 am PST (6:00—10:00 am EST), followed by live landing commentary and news briefings from scientists and engineers between 11:00 am and 12:30 pm PST (2—3:30 pm EST).
The second, featured below, will be an uninterrupted feed of cameras from inside JPL Mission Control, featuring mission audio only, during the same time window.