It’s been seven months (and a decade of planning), one billion dollars, and more than 300 million miles traveled since NASA’s InSight robotic lander set out on its mission to Mars.
Here in Minnesota, we were just starting to get over our winter weather when InSight first launched, and now, as we descend into winter once again and hurdle toward the end of 2018, the journey is finally drawing to a (nail-biting) close: This afternoon, NASA will attempt to land InSight on Mars. If successful, it will sit on the planet’s surface to explore uncharted areas and listen for quakes over the next two years.
NASA’s harrowing journey to Mars
First, InSight must survive its descent: NASA will use various spacecraft around Mars to confirm that InSight lands intact and without trouble. As NASA chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen recently told the BBC, “As humanity, as explorers, we’re batting at less than 50 percent… Going to Mars is really, really hard.”
In fact, only around 40% of these missions have been successful.
Zurbuchen described the InSight descent as “seven minutes of terror” to get through Mars’ harsh atmosphere and land safely on the surface. The play on the child’s closet game “Seven Minutes in Heaven” – in which many kids nervously experience their first kiss also with intermittent success – was decidedly intentional.
For reference: InSight must go from 12,300 mph to zero to land in a cool six minutes flat.
But NASA has completed seven successful Mars landings over the past 40 years – with only one failed touchdown during that time period. Worth noting is the fact that no other country has yet to land or manage any sort of spacecraft on the red planet.
If you want to watch NASA go for their eighth successful landing, it will be live-streamed across all NASA channels starting at 2pm (14:00) EST. The exact landing time is expected to be at 2:54pm (14:54) EST.
Before you tune in, read this article on a few of the great minds that have made space exploration possible: Stephen Hawking and beyond: 5 modern scientists making groundbreaking discoveries
Update: The InSight landing on Mars was a success! We’ll keep you posted with exciting news, changes, and findings.