For the first time in more than six years, a spacecraft is about to touch down on Mars.
NASA’s InSight lander, which was launched from Earth in May, is scheduled to land on the Red Planet today at 2.54pm EST (7.54pm GMT). We won’t get confirmation back on Earth until 3.01pm EST (8.01pm GMT), however, owing to the distance between our two planets.
All the action will be live on NASA TV, which we’ve embedded below, with shots from mission control as the team waits nervously to hear from the spacecraft. The first image from the lander on the surface of Mars is expected at 3.04pm EST (8.04pm GMT), but NASA noted it could also arrive the next day.
InSight is a stationary lander, due to touch down in a “boring” part of Mars in a large volcanic plain called Elysium Planitia. This region is particularly flat, with few rocks or craters, which might not make for great views from the onboard camera but will be great for the mission.
This lander is not looking for signs of life or evidence of past water on Mars, like the last mission to land on Mars – NASA’s Curiosity rover in August 2012. Instead, it will use a suite of instruments to study the interior of Mars, measuring any “Marsquakes” and trying to work out what the core is made of.
All the action is scheduled to begin at 2.40pm EST (7.40pm GMT), when the lander will separate from the cruise stage of its spacecraft. About seven minutes later, it will begin to enter the atmosphere of Mars at 19,800 kilometers (12,300 miles) per hour, with temperatures reaching about 1,500°C (2,700°F).
This will begin the infamous “seven minutes of terror”, as InSight lands entirely autonomously. During this time it will deploy a parachute, jettison its heat shield, extend three landing legs, and use its radar and thrusters to complete a rocket-powered landing on the ground.