Mars InSight mission: What Nasa's trip to Red Planet aims to discover

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The mission control team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles conducted a final adjustment to the InSight's flight path yesterday to manoeuvre the spacecraft closer toward its entry point over Mars.

When it lands six-and-half minutes later, it will be travelling a mere 8kmh.

This is going to be tense.

If successful, the Lander will become the space agency's first probe to reach the Red Planet in six years.

On the surface, Mars is covered in red dust that is rich in iron oxide; this coating earned it the nickname "Red Planet". That will be part of NASA's next mission, the Mars 2020 rover, which will prowl for rocks that might contain evidence of ancient life. "I just hope it lands safely".

The InSight has logged 300 million miles to get to the Red Planet since blasting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc aboard an Atlas 5 Rocket on May 5. The window below is counting down the seconds until the landing coverage right now and will switch over to live coverage from NASA's JPL mission control shortly before InSight begins its descent.

"Landing on Mars is hard and takes a lot of personal sacrifices, such as missing the traditional Thanksgiving, but making InSight successful is well worth the extraordinary effort".

But the engineers prepared the spacecraft to land during a dust storm if need be. You can also watch the landing on YouTube and UStream. The angle of approach and speed are huge factors in ensuring a safe touchdown, and the roughly seven-minute window between InSight's entry into Mars' atmosphere and the actual touchdown are going to be incredibly tense. InSight could hand NASA its eighth win.

InSight's third investigation relies on the lander's radio system.

The MarCo satellites could also relay InSight's first picture of its landing site.

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An artist's rendition of the InSight operating on the surface of Mars.

This is the reason NASA scientists have picked Elysium Planitia as the place to land the InSight. Due to a global dust storm, which only recently abated, dust has been redistributed over almost the entire surface of Mars. Still, this second largest volcanic region on Mars is an ideal place for InSight to land because of the science it is created to perform.

What will InSight do on Mars?

InSight has no life-detecting capability, however.

The 800-pound (360-kilogram) InSight is stationary with three legs and will operate from the same spot for the next two years, the duration of a Martian year. The seismic data collected by InSight will also be used to figure how Mars was formed, and reveal much about its internal structure, which geologists know very little about.

The $1 billion global mission features a German-led mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure the planet's internal heat.

Is Curiosity still on Mars?

NASA last landed on Mars in 2012 with the Curiosity rover.

Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of space missions.

The Lander had originally been scheduled to blast off in March 2016, but NASA suspended its launch preparations when a vacuum leak was found in the craft's prime science instrument. It will use a robotic arm, and a drill, to collect rocks and soil samples from Jezero Crater just north of the Martian equator, and if it finds anything interesting, it will leave it in a box for a possible future "sample return" mission, possibly by humans.

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