NASA has Mars InSight as latest lander due to arrive today

First image sent back from In Sight

Exactly what steps is the lander going to have to take, all on its own, with no direct guidance from home, even if something were to go wrong?

"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry", Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a press release.

InSight is equipped with two primary instruments: the Seismic Experiment Interior Structure - SEIS - seismometer, provided by the French space agency, CNES, and the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe - HP3 - provided by the German Aerospace Agency, DLR.

On Sunday NASA engineers successfully tweaked the probe's trajectory, steering the spacecraft within a few miles of its targeted entry point over the Red Planet. Unlike NASA's famous rovers Curiosity and Opportunity, InSight will remain in the exact place it lands. The lander will be broadcasting information during entry, descent and landing in the UHF band to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which can not simultaneously receive in one band and transmit in another. The device, to be placed on the surface by the lander's robot arm, is so sensitive it can measure a seismic wave just one half the radius of a hydrogen atom.

The smaller, 880-pound (360 kg) InSight - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st USA -launched Martian exploration including the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s.

Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the exploratory droid began its mission way back on May 5.

Of 43 other worldwide attempts to send orbiters, probes, landers or rovers to Mars, 25 have not made it.

The probe will burrow considerably deeper than the 2 metres planned for ESA's ExoMars rover (although the latter is a tad more mobile) and far more than previous NASA landers, which have mainly scratched at the surface. But given delays in collecting such information, "the mission team may know right away when InSight touches down, or they may have to wait up to several hours", according to JPL.

If all goes to plan, the first NASA lander to explore the interior of another planet will land on Mars at 3 p.m. ET Monday.

Scientists expect to see a dozen to 100 marsquakes during the mission, producing data to help them deduce the depth, density and composition of the planet's core, the rocky mantle surrounding it, and the outermost layer, the crust. In such a case, NASA would work to establish communication with the spacecraft via the Deep Space Network of radio dishes around the world, and also attempt to photograph the landing site with one of the orbiters already circling Mars.

All being well, the InSight probe should enter the Martian atmosphere at 12,300mph before an array of 12 thrusters attempts to slow it down to 5mph for a safe touchdown. The spacecraft will then send out two signals-one to say it has landed then another to confirm it was a successful touchdown. However, dust storms are common in this area. Flight controllers haven't given up hope yet that it will be revived. The InSight spacecraft was built near Denver by Lockheed Martin. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In our solar system family, Mars is Earth's next-of-kin, the next-door relative that has captivated humans for millennia. It marked the first time a Mars lander has ever been launched from the West Coast.

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