NASA Looking Toward Manned Mission To Mars 'Sometime In The 2030s'

InSight Touchdown

Illustration of NASA's In Sight lander about to land on the surface of Mars

A tiny cubesat cruising through interplanetary space has captured a new glimpse of Mars, just before watching NASA's InSight lander touch down the Red Planet.

The day has finally come!

But before that work begins, Nasa mission control in Pasadena, California, must endure what staff described as "six-and-a-half minutes of terror" between 7.47pm and 7.54pm as they monitor the final moments of the probe's descent from 300million miles away. An inquiry completed past year concluded that onboard computer software errors led to data conflicts, causing the probe to strike Mars at high speed.

Nasa's InSight probe has been travelling since May and is due to make a soft landing around 8pm GMT following a seven minute nail-biting descent in which the craft needs to decelerate from 12,300 miles per hour to just 5mph. So far, the journey so far says NASA, has been uneventful and that is a good thing. That's two days before the InSight probe is due to land on the plains of Elysium Planitia Monday (Nov. 26) to study the interior of Mars.

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"We eject that from the vehicle seven minutes before we're going to hit the top of the atmosphere", Grover says. If anything goes wrong, there's nothing they can do about it, and it might spell disaster for the lander! Thus without MarCO, nervous engineers on Earth could be faced with over an hour's wait for news from InSight. It just takes that smidgen of luck, as well, that the lander experiences nothing unexpected, on the way down. Unfortunately, though, we aren't quite up to that level of technology.

InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is based on 2008's Phoenix Lander, which itself used components left over from the cancelled Mars Surveyor 2001 lander. Once InSight phones home from the Martian surface, though, he expects to behave much like his three young grandsons did at Thanksgiving dinner, running around like insane and screaming. Instead, it will keep that data for 3 hours before sending what it recorded back to Earth.

"We never take Mars for granted".

No landing on Mars is easy.

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A clear view of Mars (lower left) as seen by NASA's small MarCO-B cubesat on November 24, 2018. That spacecraft landed at the north pole of Mars, studied the planet's water cycle, and even observed snowfall. And although it is dust storm season on Mars, there are presently no dust storms raging across the surface.

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).

MarCO is a small spacecraft that's flying to Mars with InSight. We simply haven't done anything like the MarCO mission before, so the results are still uncertain!

With NASA not expecting to send humans back to the moon until the late 2020s, those interested in space exploration will have to settle for live streams of Insight's Mars touchdown. They are experimental, however, and NASA is not counting on this data.

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Tune in on Monday to see what happens!

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