NASA has once again ventured to touch the surface of a foreign world. And after seven months traveling across the solar system, NASA’s InSight Lander is scheduled to touch down on the flat plains of Elysium Planitia on Mars on Monday at 3 p.m. ET.
But though this landing is taking place 91 million miles away from Earth, people on this planet will still have the opportunity to watch the historic event.
NASA may not know if the InSight landing is successful or not until several hours after the scheduled landing time, after it lands it will set off a radio signal called a “tone” that can be detected radio telescopes on Earth. If the craft is healthy and functioning, 7 minutes after landing, it will send a louder beep.
The InSight will land by pushing through Mars’ thin atmosphere using small rockets, deploy parachutes to slow its fall to the surface, and then use retro rockets to finally stick the landing. It will take about 6 minutes from the time the lander reaches the Martian atmosphere until it touches down on the surface of the Red Planet. The lander will have to slow from a speed of more than 12,000 miles per hour to just about 5 miles per hour before it hits the surface.
NASA’s orbiting Mars Odyssey and two experimental spacecraft will snap photos of InSight. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that serves as a “black box,” will feed clues about InSight’s success or failure back to Earthlings.
The InSight will spend its life on this foreign land listening to — vibrations beneath the surface of the planet, or “marsquakes,” to understand how rocky planets, including our own, formed.