Probe hurtling towards Mars to study planet's interior


If all goes according to plan, InSight will streak into the pink Martian sky almost 24 hours later at 12,000 miles per hour (19,310 kilometers per hour). The Mars lander will experience what they call "seven minutes of terror" as it streaks into the red planet's thin atmosphere at thousands of miles per hour.

NASA's InSight, the first mission to study the deep interior of Mars, blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5.

The InSight probe is scheduled to land on Martian soil at around 7am Tuesday, scientists say. In about six-and-a-half minutes it will have to slow down to about 5 miles per hour using descent thrusters and a parachute.

Even then, engineers will not hear about the experience of InSight during landing until approximately eight minutes after.

A spacecraft that's hurtling towards Mars will be the first to study the deep interior of the planet if it lands safely.

The smaller, 880-pound (360 kg) InSight - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st USA -launched Martian exploration including the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s.

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If all goes well, the lander will spend the next two years digging into Mars and doing other experiments.

In our solar system family, Mars is Earth's next-of-kin, the next-door relative that has captivated humans for millennia.

"What this helps us understand is how we got to here", said JPL's Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator, during a pre-landing briefing with reporters last week.

Scientists consider Mars a tantalising time capsule.

The CubeSat mission known as Mars Cube One or MarCO, which traveled to Mars alongside InSight, will make a flyby around the red planet and relay data on the landing in near real-time to mission control on Earth. The probe is equipped with a mechanical mole to tunnel underground to measure internal heat. The atmosphere on Mars is about 1 percent as thick as Earth's, making it hard for spacecraft to slow down enough for a safe landing.