Today, NASA will attempt to land its InSight probe on Mars at around 3:00 pm ET (12:00 pm PT), and you can watch it live right here.
After traveling 301,223,981 miles (484,773,006 kilometers) in just 205 days, the Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) probe is set to enter the Martian atmosphere and make its long-anticipated landing. Assuming a successful landing, InSight will be the first probe in history to drill into the Martian surface.
NASA is providing a live feed of the event, with coverage already in progress. We should know the status of the landing shortly after 3:00 pm ET (12:00 pm PT).
Update: 2:23 pm ET: We may not know the full status of the InSight landing until around 8:00 pm ET (5:00 pm PT). Regardless, we’ll continue to monitor the landing and update accordingly.
Update: 2:34 pm ET: NASA is reporting that the MarCO CubeSats are reporting in and ready to record data from the InSight landing.Update:
Update: 2:43 pm ET: InSight is transmitting UHF signals as expected, with ground stations on Earth receiving incoming data.
Update: 2:46 pm ET: Both MarCOs have locked on to InSight’s telemetry, allowing mission controllers to track the probe’s status until it reaches the landing site.
Update: 2:48 pm ET: InSight is now experiencing peak heating rates from entry, with blackouts expected, possibly for as long as two minutes. Carrier interruptions have been reported, as expected.
Update: 2:50 pm ET: Past the point of peak heating, the craft’s speed is recorded at 2,000 meters per second.
Update: 2:51 pm ET: Parachute deploy stage. NASA received signals “consistent with parachute deploy.”
Update: 2:54 pm ET: Touchdown of InSight lander confirmed! Mission controllers are jubilant, with the landing met by cheers, hugs, handshakes, and high-fives.
Update: 2:57 pm ET: Status of InSight yet to be determined, but its controlled descent, as relayed by NASA’s mission controllers, is consistent with the probe’s retro-rockets functioning as planned.
Update: 2:58 pm ET: Image of Martian surface relayed back by InSight (below). It “certainly looks like a very perfect and very successful landing,” says NASA.
Once again, a Mars-bound spacecraft will have to endure the so-called “seven minutes of terror” as InSight screams through the thin Martian atmosphere. Once the descent begins, InSight will dive in heatshield first, and then deploy its parachutes. Towards the end of the descent, the probe will use its retro-rockets to slow down even further, landing on what will hopefully be the smooth surface of Elysium Planitia—a flat plain located just north of the Martian equator.
There’s no guarantee, of course, that the descent and landing will work as planned. Mars is notorious for gobbling up our space equipment, the most recent example being the doomed ExoMars Schiaparelli lander, which smashed into the Martian surface at 185 miles per hour (300 km/h) in 2016 owing to a software glitch. The fail-success ratio of missions to Mars is actually quite depressing, with the historic chance of a successful landing being about 40 percent. The thin atmosphere, at just one percent of Earth’s, provides very little friction to slow down incoming spacecraft. Today’s event will be the first NASA Mars landing since the Curiosity rover in 2012.
Last minute adjustments are already being made. Early yesterday, mission controllers made a final trajectory correction to guide the spacecraft to within a few miles of the desired entry point. Around two hours before the descent, NASA could further adjust the descent algorithms if deemed necessary.
The InSight probe is being trailed by two mini-spacecraft, NASA’s Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These CubeSats—the first ever to be sent into deep space—will attempt to monitor the InSight landing and relay data back to Earth.
Should all go well, InSight will spend the next two years (at least) studying the Red Planet’s deep interior. It’ll take about two to three months for InSight’s robotic arm to configure its instruments on the surface, at which time it’ll start digging into the Martian crust. Before then, however, InSight will monitor its new digs and take photographs of the landscape.
Okay, InSight—you got this.