NASA's InSight set to land on Mars


Today's the day for the Mars InSight lander's touchdown on the Red Planet, and NASA is pulling out all the stops to let us in on the action.

The $850 million InSight Mars lander mission - whose name is short for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport" - launched on May 5 atop an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Nearly half of the attempts to land on Mars fail.

You may be wondering if InSight will meet native forms of life during its stay on Mars; alas, that question will remain unanswered.

Coverage of the landing will begin at 2 P.M. EST with live landing commentary and a feed from mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

InSight is targeting a region known as Elysium Planitia, which is basically Latin for "heavenly plain". You can access NASA Television here or watch the broadcast below.

Viewing parties are planned coast to coast at museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as in France, where InSight's seismometer was designed and built. Mars Odyssey will pass over the landing zone, with its cameras pointed down to capture whether the lander deployed its solar panels, however it will not send that information until 5 hours after the landing. Any steeper, and the probe will burn itself up in a spectacular and fiery death.

This focus on the Martian interior explains why the mission team chose such a boring landing site: Cliffs, craters, ancient river deltas and other landscape features would serve only to complicate a safe touchdown.

At 2:47 pm ET, the entry, descent and landing phase began, and InSight came blazing into the atmosphere at 12,300 miles per hour.

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If successful, the entry, descent and landing of the Mars InSight - created to be the first mission to listen to the interior of another planet and reveal how rocky planets formed - will add another success to NASA's record when it comes to sending spacecraft to Mars. This meant reinforcing InSight's heat shield and parachute suspension lines.

- At 1953 GMT, the first radar signal is expected, followed 20 second later by the spacecraft's separation from the back shell and parachute. If InSight comes into too shallow, the spacecraft could skip off the thin atmosphere, and an entry angle that is too steep would produce too much thermal heating.

Today marks the end of a seven-month trip from Earth.

"InSight is a mission to Mars, but it's much, much more than a Mars mission".

It's touching down on Mars that aerospace engineers consider to be one of the greatest challenges in the solar system; in fact, about a third of missions successfully launched to the red planet don't survive a landing.

The monitoring and adjustments to InSight's path will continue until the last minute.

Experts hope the mission will be the first to unlock geological secrets of the planet's hidden core, using a probe to dig 16ft (5m) beneath the surface.

This includes the intrepid Curiosity rover - whose team took to Twitter to share their enthusiasm ahead of the big Mars landing scheduled to take place on November 26.

"The goal of InSight is nothing less than to better understand the birth of the Earth, the birth of the planet we live on, and we're going to do that by going to Mars", Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator of the InSight mission, told CBS News back in May.