NASA's Mars lander InSight is just weeks away from touching down on the surface of the red planet.
On November 26, the solar-powered spacecraft will barrel into the atmosphere of Mars at a speed of 22,700 kilometers per hour. If everything goes as planned, the lander will touch down just north of the Martian equator at 11:47 am, Pacific Standard Time.
Landing on Mars is not easy. The success rate of Mars missions by any space agency is just 40 per cent
InSight was launched on 5 May this year from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. In its near seven-month-long journey, Insight was accompanied by two experimental Mars Cube One (MarCo) cubesats. NASA sent these cubesats to act as communications relays during the InSight's descent to the Martian surface.
After entering the Martian atmosphere, InSight will deploy a huge parachute to slow down its descent speed. As it comes close to the surface, it will run its 12 descent engines and also suspend its legs to ensure a soft touchdown on an equatorial plain called Elysium Planitia, located about 370 miles (595km) from Gale Crater.
According to NASA, landing on Mars is not easy. The success rate of Mars missions by any space agency is just 40 per cent. Mars has a very thin atmosphere, which means it offers very little friction to slow down the descent of a spacecraft.
The design of InSight is almost the same as the Phoenix spacecraft, which successfully landed at Mars' North Pole in 2008. Small changes to the design have been done to help Insight withstand the journey to Mars and the harsh Martian atmosphere.
NASA claims that it should even be able to land safely in dust storm conditions. Its thick heat shield can withstand intense dust storms, and the suspension lines of its parachute are stronger than Phoenix's.
A few days before landing, the InSight mission team will start receiving weather updates from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It will enable the team to make last minute changes in their strategy, if required, regarding parachute deployment or using radar to spot the Martian surface.
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