NASA lander will plunge to Mars today in harrowing 6-minute descent

The In Sight probe was launched from California on a spacecraft in May

The In Sight probe was launched from California on a spacecraft in May

Nearly half of the attempts to land on Mars fail.

It's an exciting mission for NASA and scientists the world over, but before the research can start the lander needs to make it down on to the surface of Mars. 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. An inquiry completed past year concluded that onboard computer software errors led to data conflicts, causing the probe to strike Mars at high speed. Everything, from the angle at which the probe first hits the martian atmosphere, to the exact time its three legs pop free, ready to absorb the shock of landing, must go right - and in the right order. On Sunday at 4:47 p.m. ET, engineers were still correcting course "to steer the spacecraft within a few kilometers of its targeted entry point over Mars", NASA said. You're tuning into the live feed for the sake of the landing, and any additional news is a bonus.

You can expect to see a lot of interviews and background videos during the early part of the coverage, leading up to shots of anxious engineers milling around at JPL's Mission Control as the appointed time nears.

The terror? Well, as NASA engineers have explained, when it comes to Mars landings they often need everything to be in flawless sequence during that tiny timeframe for things to go right. The stationery lander also carries a six-foot robotic arm and a self-hammering "nail" instrument that will burrow itself 16 feet into the ground to study heat transfer. Then, still traveling about 180 miles per hour, the lander will fire retrorockets to bring it down for a soft landing.

Two Earthbound radio telescopes, the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia and Max Planck Institute in Efflesberg, Germany, will be trained on Mars in the hope of detecting the signals in the event of the experimental MarCOs not playing ball. Long-distance Landing Why all the hype, when this is just another landing on Mars?

The InSight, which is being managed by Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is scheduled to land on Mars at around noon Pacific time.

An artist's rendition of the InSight operating on the surface of Mars. And although it is dust storm season on Mars, there are presently no dust storms raging across the surface.

NASA handout shows illustration of simulated view of the In Sight probe about to land on Mars
NASA handout shows illustration of simulated view of the In Sight probe about to land on Mars

"We can't joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-program into the spacecraft".

These are predictions for the details of InSight's landing that project managers made several weeks ago.

"InSight is a mission to Mars, but it's much, much more than a Mars mission".

InSight's primary instrument is a French-built seismometer, created to record the slightest vibrations from "marsquakes" and meteor impacts around the planet. Thus without MarCO, nervous engineers on Earth could be faced with over an hour's wait for news from InSight.

France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) made the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, the key element for sensing quakes. Only about 40 percent of the landers and rovers sent to the red planet during the last five decades have ever made it safely down to the surface, and of the global space agencies that have tried, only NASA has succeeded in making a soft landing on Mars.

It's still unclear exactly when NASA and JPL officials will be able to confirm that the craft has successfully landed.

Latest News