The unlimited stretch from the moment a spaceship enters the atmosphere of the Martian atmosphere to the second that touches the rusty surface of the Red Planet is what scientists call the "seven minutes of terror"
The landing of a spacecraft on Mars is as difficult as it sounds. More than half of all missions do not make it safe on the surface. Since light signals take more than seven minutes to travel 100 million miles to Earth, scientists have no control over the process. All they can do is program the spacecraft with its best technology and wait.
Seven minutes of horror for InSight, Mars' latest explorer, begins Monday just before 15:00. Eastern time zone. This is the first mission to study seismic waves on another planet; by exploring the interior of Mars, scientists aim to reveal signs of tectonic activity and clues about the past of the planet.
But first they have to get there.
At about 2:47 am. Monday, engineers from the jet engine will receive a signal indicating that InSight has entered the Mars atmosphere. The spacecraft will drop to the surface of the planet at a rate of 12,300 kilometers per hour; within two minutes, the friction would bake its thermal shield to blistering 2700 degrees Fahrenheit. After two more minutes a supersonic parachute will be launched to help the spacecraft slow down.
Hence, the most critical drop list expands quickly: 15 seconds to separate the heat shield. Ten seconds to unfold your legs. Activate the radar. Return the envelope back. The Fire Retriever. Landing Landing.
Assuming everything goes well, at 12:01 AM, scientists will hear a brief signal, a signal that InSight is active and functioning on the Red Planet.
The purpose is to determine what has been done on Mars and how it has changed since its creation more than 4 billion years ago. The results could help solve the mystery of how the Red Planet has become the dry and clogged world we see today.
At the beginning of its history, Mars looked very much like the Earth. Magnetisation in the ancient rocks suggests that there is a global magnetic field like Earth driven by a blunted mantle and a metal core. The field would protect the planet from radiation, allowing it to remain in an atmosphere that is much thicker than the one that exists today. This, in turn, has probably allowed the liquid water to merge on the surface of Mars; images from satellites reveal the outlines of long gone lakes, delta and river caverns.
But the last 3 billion years have been a disaster for the Red Planet. Dynamo died; the magnetic field hesitated; the water is evaporated; and more than half of the atmosphere was separated from the solar winds. InSight's mission has been developed to understand why.
As InSight makes its precarious offensive, NASA can get real-time real-time information via MarCo satellites – a tiny twin experimental spacecraft known as CubeSats that accompanies InSight on its flight to Mars. Each of them has solar arrays, a color camera, and an antenna for retransmission of communications from the surface of Mars back to Earth.
If the satellites are successful, they can provide a "possible model for a new type of interplanetary relay communication," said system engineer Ann Marinan NASA Edition.
Even without a Marco spacecraft, NASA needs to know if the solar arrays at the ground-based airport are deployed until Monday night thanks to the Mars reconnaissance orbital recordings. Within one day, the agency will receive its first photos at the spacecraft landing site – a huge, flat, almost unimpeded plane near the equator, known as Elysium Planitia. This is where science will begin.
Unlike Opportunity and Curiosity – the rovers that walk Mars in search of interesting rocks, InSight is designed to sit and listen. Using their dome-shaped seismic sensor, scientists hope to find tiny shakes related to meteorite impacts, dust storms and marsquakes generated by cooling the interior of the planet. As the seismic waves pass through them, they will be distorted by the changes in the materials they encounter – perhaps cracks of molten rock or liquid water tanks – revealing what is below the surface of the planet.
InSight also has a workout capable of climbing 16 feet deeper than before any Mars tool. From there, you can take the temperature of Mars to determine how much heat is still flowing out of the body of the planet. Meanwhile, two antennas will track the exact location of the land to determine how much Mars will be moving around orbit.
Insights from InSight will not only add to what we know about Mars. They could give clues to the things that happened on Earth billions of years ago. Most records of the early history of the Earth have been lost by the spotless discarding of the tecton plate, said Susanne Dexter, Deputy Chief Researcher of the Mission.
"Mars gives us the opportunity to see the materials, the structure, the chemical reactions that are close to what we see inside the Earth, but this is preserved," she said. "That gives us a chance to get back on time."
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