Curiosity rover’s landing on the red planet in 2012 was called ‘seven minutes of terror’ by NASA. Now the Mars InSight is just one day away from landing on Mars. The touchdown will take around 6.5 minutes, which is a little less terror according to Rob Grover. The rover will study the deep interior of the planet. It is all set to land at 3 pm EST on Monday after having traveled 300m miles since being launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base in the month of May. Grover was a part of 3 other Mars missions when Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004 and Pheonix in 2008.
Grover said in an interview that the aeroshell of InSight is similar to those of Pheonix, Spirit, Opportunity and Pathfinder. A parachute and then rocket powder is used to help the 3-legged InSight to land. The 12 engines help to keep the rover horizontal, upright and balanced while descending. On landing, the engines switch off immediately. The data that InSight sends will take about 8 minutes to reach Earth. He even talked about the old JPL tradition, which has been happening since the 1960s, of passing a jar of lucky peanuts. Grover said that the main focus right now is on the weather conditions, which is likely to prevail during the time of InSight’s landing on Monday. Keeping the conditions in mind, changes in the software parameters will be made. . A group of atmospheric scientists are working on this, said Grover. These alterations can be made 1.5hours prior to the landing. Starting Saturday morning, everyone is going to be on a 24-hour duty. One of the challenges, as he said, is going to be controlling the entire landing through onboard computer as it cannot be done all the way from Earth. Nothing can be done once the landing process begins. Although everything has been rehearsed several times before, there’s always the slight chance of things doing wrong as weather on Mars might differ from what has been predicted for so long. The experience is both exciting and nerve racking, said Grover.
Two big risks include what happens after deployment of the parachute and the working of the radar. Following a landing, EDL reconstructions are done where landing data and its precise trajectory are put together so that future missions can use the information to their advantage, just like data from the ‘90s unsuccessful Mars Polar Lander mission helped future Martian missions. But because the landing spot for InSight is one of the flattest regions, the landing is most likely to be very successful.