At a speed of 19,800 kilometers per hour, the Mars InSight probe approaches Mars, where it has to land on Monday in order to begin its mission: listen to earthquakes and study the inner functioning of the rocky planet.
The ship must survive the difficult entry into the atmosphere of the red planet and the task of rapidly reducing its speed to just 8 kilometers per hour.
Unmanned spacecraft, worth $ 993 million, were launched nearly seven months ago (5 May) at the Vandenberg airbase in California and covered approximately 482 million kilometers. Part of his mission is to inform about the efforts to send human scouts to the red planet, which Nasa hopes to achieve in 2030.
Mars landing is the first in 2012, when the Curiosity explorer of
NASA landed and analyzed the stones for signs of life that could have lived on the planet near the Earth, ice cream and dry.
The entry, descent and landing phase will begin on Monday, 19:47 GMT (14:47, Colombian time). In half-joking, Nasa refers to that stage as "six and a half minutes of terror."
Its central instrument is a earthquake detection seismometer developed by the French Space Agency (CNES).
The six on-board quake sensors are so sensitive that they should reveal the smallest tremors on Mars, such as the weak pulling of their Phobos moon, the impact of the meteors, and eventually evidence of volcanic activity.
"This is the first mission to study the deep inside of Mars," said Spanish Fernando Abilleira, deputy director of design and navigation at InSight. "By studying the wave propagation beneath the surface of Mars, through its seismometer, we will have more information about how the planet has evolved over the last 3,000 million years, he added.
Seismology has greatly taught mankind about Earth formation some 4.5 billion years ago, but many of Earth-based proofs have been lost through crust recycling, led by plate tectonics. This process does not exist on Mars.
The other instrument that is of particular importance is the Physical Properties and Heat Flow (HP3) built by the Aerospace German Center (DLR), which will be implanted in Martian soil about 5 meters deep to provide the first accurate measurement of temperatures underground on Mars and the amount of heat that escapes from the inside.
InSight's landing will be damped by a parachute. Its heat shield will help slow down the ship and protect it from the friction of entry into the atmosphere of the red planet.
The landing site is a flat area called Elysium Planitia, which NASA has called "the largest Mars car park."
NASA will find out in a matter of minutes whether the landing has been successful or not, but will have to wait more than five hours to confirm the deployment of the equipment.
Of the 43 missions launched on Mars, only 18 arrived on the red planet, a success rate of about 40% and all came from the United States. "We go to Mars is very, very difficult," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate manager of the NASA Scientific Missions Division.
"The interesting part is that we rely on the success of the best team ever landing on this planet, which is NASA's team with its contractors and their collaborators," he added.
Other details of the probe
The name InSight is derived from "Indoor exploration by seismic, geodesy and thermal transport investigations". Spacecraft stop at about a meter from the surface and, once they break down their solar panels, they will be over six feet. With a full load of fuel, it weighs more than 360kg, almost the same as a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
AFP and EFE