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Mars InSight mission: What Nasa's trip to Red Planet aims to discover

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NASA’s Insight on track for Monday Mars landing

When NASA's InSight lander approaches Mars on Monday afternoon, it will finish one journey - through space - and launch on another: to go deeper into Mars. However, a signal from MarCO takes several minutes to reach Earth traveling at the speed of light.

This is going to be tense.

"Everything we've done to date makes us feel comfortable and confident we're going to land on Mars", added Hoffman, who's based at JPL.

A further three achieved orbit but failed to land.

NASA and Lockheed engineers won't know right away whether the spacecraft has made it safely down to the surface-there is a time delay of 8.1 minutes for communications between Earth and Mars at present.

NASA's live video coverage of today's landing begins at 11 a.m. PT, leading up to the expected climax just before noon. Having launched on May 5, 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as it enters the atmosphere of Mars, InSight will be traveling at 14,100 miles per hour.

InSight lander - the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - is the United States space agency's first craft dedicated to peer beneath Mars' surface and monitor its interior. However, a high-speed crash remains a risk.

InSight is the first Mars landing made by the space agency since Curiosity touched down in 2012.

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The final tone transmitted, which will hopefully be followed very shortly after by a basic, low-res picture of the lander's surroundings, is expected to arrive at NASA at around 3 p.m. ET on Monday (or 12 p.m. PT).

Space Center Houston is hosted a watch party at 1601 NASA Parkway in Houston where visitors will be able to view the events as they occur. Then, the descent engines, known as retrorockets, begin to fire. It's hoped that the radio telescopes will pick up those signals, though NASA also has a couple of CubeSats orbiting Mars that could help relay the signals.

An artist illustration of the InSight lander on Mars.

The JPL controllers also expect to receive a photograph of the probe's new surroundings on the flat, smooth Martian plain close to the planet's equator called the Elysium Planitia.

In space, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will be tracking InSight's progress down to the surface, however, it is not created to relay those message real-time. However, dust storms are common in this area. About 45 seconds before InSight lands, it will drop out of the shell and fall toward the surface.

The InSight mission cost about $814 million, including the launch costs; France and Germany invested about $180 million.

InSight's primary instrument is a French-built seismometer, created to record the slightest vibrations from "marsquakes" and meteor impacts around the planet.

A pair of mini satellites trailing InSight since their May liftoff provided practically real-time updates of the spacecraft's supersonic descent through the reddish skies. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) can detect ground vibrations that are smaller than a hydrogen atom, providing an unprecedented picture of the tectonic activity and geologic shifting of Mars. 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.

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