The six-month journey from a NASA spacecraft to Mars is approaching its dramatic grand finale.
The InSight lander is meant to be settled within a few hours, because the fear grows among those involved in the international effort of $ 1 billion.
The dangerous descent of InSight through the atmosphere of Mars has put stomach complaints and nerves to the limit. Although this is an old pro, NASA has not attempted to land on Mars for six years.
InSight is scheduled for landing on Tuesday at 7:00 am (AEDT).
The robotic geologist – designed to explore the mysterious interior of Mars – must go from 6,800 km / h to zero in six minutes flat as he pierces the Mars-like atmosphere, pulls out a parachute, dismounts his engines and lands on three feet.
It targets flat red plains, hopefully low on rocks.
The overall success rate of the Earth on Mars is 40 percent.
"Landing on Mars is one of the hardest jobs people have to do in planetary exploration," says Inces & # 39; chief scientist, Bruce Banerdt. "It is so difficult, it is so dangerous that there is always a reasonably uncomfortable chance that something can go wrong."
This is not a rock-gathering expedition. Instead, the stationary 360-kilogram lander will use its 1.8-meter long robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground.
The self-hating mole will dig 5 meters down to measure the internal heat of the planet, while the ultra high-tech seismometer listens to possible marsquakes. Nothing like this has been tried before on Mars. Experiments have never been moved from the spacecraft to the actual Mars surface in a robotic manner. No lander has digged more than a few centimeters and no seismometer has ever worked on Mars.
By looking at the deepest, darkest interior of Mars – still preserved from the earliest days – scientists hope to create 3D images that could reveal how the rocky planets of our solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago and why they turned out to be so different to be. One of the big questions is what has made the earth so hospitable for life.
Mars once had flowing rivers and lakes; the delta & # 39; s and lakebedden are now dry and the planet is cold. Venus is an oven because of its thick, heat-trapping atmosphere. Mercury, closest to the sun, has a surface that is positively baked. The planetary know-how that emerged from InSight's two-year operation can, according to Banerdt, even go over to rocky worlds outside our solar system. The findings on Mars can help to explain the kind of conditions in these so-called exoplanets "and how they fit into the story we're trying to figure out for how planets form," he said.
InSight has no life-detecting ability and concentrates on planetary building blocks. That will be left to future robbers. NASA's Mars 2020 mission, for example, will collect stones for eventual return that could contain the old life.