Mars Spacecraft Set To Land On Monday

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Mars probe faces daunting challenge to land safely

The smaller, 880-pound (360 kg) InSight - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st US -launched Martian exploration including the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s.

The engineering that's gone into building the InSight spacecraft and lander is staggering, and the people behind the project - who've been working for years to develop, launch and land this mission on another planet - are nothing short of inspiring. It is expected to land on a flat, stable surface on a broad Martian plain called Elysium Planitia.

It represents NASA's ninth attempt at landing a spacecraft on Mars. In about six-and-a-half minutes it will have to slow down to about 5 miles per hour using descent thrusters and a parachute.

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New lander will add to humans' long fascination with Mars

InSight, the first mission to study the deep interior of Mars, blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5.

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

InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) has set out to learn about the interior of the Red Planet and how it was formed, with the hope that we'll learn more about the origins of our own planet.

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Scientists consider Mars a tantalizing time capsule because it retains much of its early history.

NASA Science missions circle Earth, the Sun, the Moon, Mars and many other destinations within our solar system, including spacecraft that look out even further into our universe.

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

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The Viking probes of the mid-1970s were equipped with seismometers, but they were bolted atop the landers, a design that proved largely ineffective. The probe is equipped with a mechanical mole to tunnel underground to measure internal heat. And by bouncing radio signals back and forth with Earth, it will tell us whether Mars wobbles on its orbit (ultimately telling us about the composition of the planet's core).

If the landing all goes to plan, InSight will complete a two year (or one Mars year) mission to gather data about our planetary neighbour.

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