After more than half a year of flying through space, NASA’s Mars-bound lander is closing in on the red planet. The InSight spacecraft is only a month away from reaching Mars’s orbit — and this can only mean excitement for the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which manages the InSight mission for NASA.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the InSight lander will touch down on Martian soil on November 26, after having traveled more than 300 million miles to reach its destination.
Launched on May 5, InSight will take on the challenge of investigating what goes on beneath the red planet’s crust. Short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, this is “the first-ever mission to study the heart of Mars,” notes the JPL.
The InSight lander is expected to descend on the Martian surface at approximately 3 p.m. EST on Monday, November 26. The site of the highly-anticipated Mars landing is Elysium Planitia — a high-elevation equatorial plain located 370 miles from the famous Gale Crater, notes Space.
This is the same Martian crater where the Curiosity rover has been drilling and gathering rock samples for the past six years.
“I’m 30 days away from landing on Mars. My goal right now is a safe landing but after that, the science begins!” the InSight team tweeted on October 26.
I’m 30 days away from landing on #Mars. My goal right now is a safe landing but after that, the science begins! Learn more about what I’ll be searching for: https://t.co/cDztPloEqn ???? pic.twitter.com/CvlHP8SceQ— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) October 26, 2018
In preparation for the big event, NASA is hosting a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the InSight mission and the harrowing entry, descent, and landing sequence that the spacecraft will be performing in less than 30 days.
Mars InSight is a month out from its Seven Minutes of Terror - https://t.co/5kSi77PB9l #MarsInsight @NASA (Plus read up on a new @SwRI proposal to explore #Pluto & the latest updates from #NASAKepler) @AlanStern @NASA pic.twitter.com/2KF9i0xkfF— Scott Sutherland (????️????️????????????????️) (@ScottWx_TWN) October 26, 2018
“InSight will study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all rocky planets, including Earth and its Moon, formed,” stated JPL officials.
The lander is equipped with a seismometer and a thermal probe — instruments that will help it examine the tectonic activity on Mars and measure the red planet’s temperature.
The lander’s seismometer — officially dubbed the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure instrument, or SEIS — is tasked with detecting marsquakes.
“SEIS will measure seismic waves from marsquakes and meteorite strikes as they move through Mars,” NASA explained in a recent news release. “The speed of those waves changes depending on the material they’re traveling through, helping scientists deduce what the planet’s interior is made of.”
Meanwhile, the heath probe — known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument — will monitor the heat flow that occurs in the Martian subsurface.
“This unique instrument,” notes NASA, “holds a spike attached to a long tether” which is embedded with heat sensors. The mechanism works by hammering itself up to 16 feet underground, from where it can take the planet’s pulse.
“At that depth, it can detect heat trapped inside Mars since the planet first formed.”
In addition, InSight also carries a third instrument — the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, or RISE — which will record radio signals with the help of two X-band antennas in order to learn more about the “wobble” in Mars’ rotation.
“That wobble is a sign of whether Mars’ core is liquid or solid — a trait that could also shed light on the planet’s thin magnetic field,” states the space agency.
Unlike the Mars rovers that NASA has deployed on the red planet, the InSight lander won’t be trekking across the Martian terrain in order to gather scientific data. Instead, the spacecraft is designed to remain stationary and will conduct all its investigations at the landing site.
Out of all the possible landing spots on the red planet, NASA has chosen Elysium Planitia as the touchdown area for the InSight lander due to its large, flat surface.
“That makes landing just a bit easier, as there’s less to crash into, fewer rocks to land on and lots of sunlight to power the spacecraft.”