Living. NASA & # 39; s InSight probe will attempt a high-risk landing on Mars

November 26, 2018 – 14:54
After seven years of work and seven months of traveling through space, seven minutes of fear begin at 4 pm, the time of Argentina.

Seven years of work, seven months of space travel and almost seven minutes of fear: the American probe InSight is finally ready to touch the surface of Mars on Monday by a very risky landing maneuver. And NASA technicians who follow the operation from Earth can do nothing but cross their fingers: from the entrance to the Mars atmosphere – with their respective storms – to the contact of their feet with the rock, everything is programmed with hours advance.

Even more horrifying is that the signal indicating that InSight is safe on the surface of Mars takes eight minutes to reach the control center of the mission, located in Pasadena, California. "With Mars nothing is ever assured, Mars is difficult," Thomas Zurbuchen, head of the NASA scientific department, summarized on Sunday, who approved this nearly $ 1 billion mission to study the red planet's guts.

It is the first time since 2012 that an artifact is attempting to land on Mars after NASA's Curiosity vehicle, the only one currently active on the surface of the red planet. Only the United States placed artifacts there that invested in these missions with the aim of preparing a future invasion with human explorers for the 2030s.

But more than half of the 43 attempts to bring robots, satellites or others to Mars – run by space agencies around the world – has failed.

Faster than a bullet

Insight must enter the atmosphere of Mars at 7:47 PM GMT, obliquely to prevent it from flying into pieces. Only rubbing with the atmosphere causes the temperature to rise rapidly to 1,500 ° C, but the probe is prepared with a reinforced heat shield to endure the impact. The probe then moves to about 20,000 km / h, three to four times faster than a rifle bullet and aims for a rectangular area of ​​about 10 km by 24 km.

After starting from a point on Earth, 480 million kilometers away, "it's like you scored a goal 130,000 kilometers away," NASA said. Four minutes and a hundred kilometers away automatically a parachute opens, causing the descent to be abruptly delayed. Then, once the heat shield is activated, the device will open its three legs and the parachute will come off.

"We will be in free fall for a brief moment, something that is absolutely frightening to think of me," said Tom Hoffman, head of the InSight project for NASA. The probe will quickly ignite the 12 retrocohetes that will slow the descent of the device to about 8 km / h, which then weighs no more than 365 kg. At 19:54 GMT, almost seven minutes after the first contact with the atmosphere, InSight would finally have to "knead".

Magma and temperature

During that time, baptized by some as "the six and a half minutes of terror", nothing and no one could attend the InSight to correct his career or remedy an error. "I am completely relaxed, but at the same time completely nervous," Hoffman said. "We have done everything possible to ensure the success of the mission, but you never know what can happen," he explained, realizing that he has not been able to "sleep very well" lately.

The engineer and his colleagues, including many European scientists who contributed to the advanced instruments traveling onboard InSight, must wait until 20.01 GMT to receive the first signal sent by the probe. Only there you can be sure that it is intact and well stabilized on its three feet. InSight will later, slowly, deploy the solar panels that feed your instruments. From now on, a very busy work program awaits you.

He must listen to the interior of Mars and try to reveal the mysteries of his formation billions of years ago. Knowledge that could later allow us to better understand the formation of the earth, the only rocky planet whose interior has really been studied. InSight is equipped with a French seismometer, SIX, which will be placed directly on the bottom of Mars and the minimal vibrations will be heard: meteor shock waves, earth movements, crunches of rock layers, even deep magma movements. .

Another remarkable instrument, of German origin, is the HP3, which has to excavate the surface of Mars between 3 and 5 meters to absorb its temperature. While the wind sensors of the ship are of Spanish design.

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