'Six and a half minutes of terror' before Mars landing


InSight's main mission is to gather data about Mars' interior, which is why Hoffman isn't bothered by the boring terrain.

"In some sense, it's like a time machine - it's measuring the structure of Mars that was put in place 4.5 billion years ago", Banerdt said.

A spacecraft that cost almost a billion dollars is on course to make a perilous landing Monday on Mars, if it can survive a high-speed approach and the scorching heat of entering the Red Planet's atmosphere, a process NASA has nicknamed "six and a half minutes of terror".

A NASA spacecraft created to burrow beneath the surface of Mars landed on the red planet Monday after a six-month, 300-million-mile (482-million-kilometer) journey and a perilous, six-minute descent through the rose-hued atmosphere.

There'll be a post-landing news conference at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, set for no earlier than 2 p.m. PT.

The terror? Well, as NASA engineers have explained, when it comes to Mars landings they often need everything to be in ideal sequence during that tiny timeframe for things to go right. NASA's Curiosity rover, which arrived in 2012, is still on the move on Mars.

NASA's InSight spacecraft will make its final approach today and attempt to pull off one of the greatest engineering feats ever accomplished: landing on Mars.

Scoping out the insides of Mars could help scientists to understand how our neighbor in the Solar System and other rocky worlds including the earth and the moon formed and transformed over billions of years. But InSight is heavier than Phoenix, and its landing site is 1.5 kilometers higher, which means there is less atmosphere to slow the spacecraft.

Vice President Mike Pence was among the anxious watchers, Bridenstine said; he called the administrator to congratulate NASA minutes after InSight's successful landing.

Zurbuchen described InSight as "unique" because the waist-high lander contains instruments that were contributed by several European space agencies.

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Earth's overall success rate at Mars is 40 percent.

Many Mars-bound spacecraft launched by the U.S., Russian Federation and other countries have been lost or destroyed over the years, with a success rate of just 40 percent, not counting InSight. The lander has three main scientific instruments: the shielded seismometer that Curiosity tweeted about, a "mole" that's created to burrow down as far as 15 feet and take Mars' temperature below ground, and a radio transponder that can make precise measurements of Mars' movements.

Why all the hype, when this is just another landing on Mars?

Seven hours after touchdown, NASA reported that InSight's vital solar panels were open and recharging its batteries. The spacecraft will be landing on Elysium Planitia, a large volcanic plain stretching north of Mars' equator.

You can also go to in-person events, which are happening in places such as New York's Times Square and across the world.

InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is on a 24-month mission.

A quick photo sent from Mars' surface was marred by specks of debris on the camera cover but showed a flat surface with few if any rocks - just what scientists were hoping for.

NASA and JPL used radio signals to monitor InSight's descent to the planet, and was able to quickly confirm touchdown on Mars.

PALCA: Marinan says the two MarCO spacecraft keep on going past Mars and into space.