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Nervousness abounds at NASA as Mars touchdown day arrives

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — A NASA spacecraft’s six-month journey to Mars nears its dramatic grand finale Monday, in what scientists and engineers hope might be a comfortable precision touchdown on flat purple plains.

The InSight lander aimed for a day landing, as nervousness constructed amongst these concerned within the $1 billion worldwide effort.

InSight’s perilous descent via the Martian environment, after a visit of 300 million miles (482 million kilometers), has stomachs churning and nerves stretched to the max. Though an outdated professional at this, NASA final tried a touchdown on Mars six years in the past.

The robotic geologist — designed to discover Mars’s mysterious insides — should go from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat because it pierces the Martian environment, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and, hopefully, lands on three legs.

“Touchdown on Mars is among the hardest single jobs that individuals must do in planetary exploration,” notes InSight’s lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt. “It’s such a tough factor, it’s such a harmful factor that there’s all the time a reasonably uncomfortably massive probability that one thing may go unsuitable.”

The US has pulled off seven profitable Mars landings up to now 4 a long time, in addition to one failed landing. No different nation has managed to set and function a spacecraft on the dusty purple floor. InSight may hand NASA its eighth win.

It’s capturing for Elysium Planitia, a plain close to the Martian equator that the InSight group hopes is as flat as a car parking zone in Kansas with few, if any, rocks. That is no rock-collecting expedition. As a substitute, the stationary 800-pound (360-kilogram) lander will use its 6-foot (1.8-meter) robotic arm to put a mechanical mole and seismometer on the bottom.

The self-hammering mole will burrow 16 ft (5 meters) right down to measure the planet’s inside warmth, whereas the ultra-high-tech seismometer listens for doable marsquakes. Nothing like this has been tried earlier than at our smaller next-door neighbor, practically 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) away.

This picture, made out there by NASA in October 2016, reveals an illustration of NASA’s InSight lander about to land on the floor of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech through AP)

— AP

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