Mars InSight probe lands today

Reader Jon kindly reminded me this morning (after letting me know last week) that NASA’s InSight “stationary lander”,  launched from Earth on May 5, will—if all goes well—touch down today at about 20:00 UTC (3 p.m. Eastern time in the U.S.). The distance of the journey: over 301 million miles!

The lander is basically a probe that drills down 16 feet to take Mars’s temperature, but it will take 2-3 months to put that probe in place after landing.

Jon added more information and some links; I’ll remind you about 15 minutes before the lander touches down.

Live landing commentary on NASA TV will run from 19:00-20:30 UTC (1-2:30 p.m. CEN). InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will conduct an in-depth study of the interior of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core.

Here’s a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory description of the InSight landing (similar to the Curiosity rover touch down) and an animation of the landing from Lockheed Martin who designed and built InSight. (has a silly ending with Insight “speaking” with an alluring female voice?).

Reader Michael sent this link to a nice Ars Technica piece showing the landing timeline.

I’ve embedded the video here; the landing is a masterpiece of engineering, but it’s fully automated so that NASA has no control. Those in charge have described the landing process as “seven minutes of terror.

Matthew Inman at The Oatmeal has a lovely cartoon description of the landing and the probe’s mission; click on the screenshot to go to the comic:
More from Jon:
(Unrelated but pretty amazing, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst made a time-lapse video from the cupola on the ISS of the Russian Progress MS-10 cargo ship as it launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 16 November.)
Finally, here’s a New York Times article describing what we’ve learned about Mars in the last year (click on article):


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I saw this in the news like 15 minutes ago – awesome

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks much for that.

  3. W.T. Effingham
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Kudos to all (thousands) the brilliant scientists and technicians making this happen. It will be intriguing to see new information from this project.

    • Bat
      Posted November 26, 2018 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      And engineers please. These planetary and other extra terrestrial landings are excellent examples of how practicianers from all of the stem (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields must bring their skills, knowledge, and practices together for a successful accomplishment. This is a nasa science mission supported by engineering. But the engineers are supported by previously learned science about mars such as atmosphere and gravitational characteristics, and topography. Would be great if k12 science in all u.s. states started reshaping their science education to show the need for collaboration using these great examples. The 2011 nrc framework document recommends bringing engineering into science ed as an equal to physical sciences, life sciences, and earth/space science and the2013 next generation science standards (ngss) provide a full set of k12 science ed curriculum standards based on the framework. But a number of states including my own, virginia, have rejected ngss (aswell asthe sense of the nrc recommendations)

      • Diane G
        Posted November 27, 2018 at 4:42 am | Permalink

        Sounds like a great idea to me! How do students learn anything about engineering if they don’t have engineers–or at least, fans of engineers–in their family/social circle?

  4. Posted November 26, 2018 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the heads up. I’ll be tuning in. Wow, does that date me.

  5. Posted November 26, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I watched the pre-landing event yesterday and plan to watch the main event today. I love this stuff and hope all goes well with the landing.

    Besides drilling into the crust, it is also has a seismometer which will be used to see what the planet is made of right down to its core. It is so sensitive that they expect to see waves from each seismic event twice or even three times as they travel around the entire circumference of Mars.

    I was also fascinated by the two cubesats, called MarCO, that will each fly parallel to the Insight probe, relaying information back to Earth. Each is the size of a briefcase!

  6. Posted November 26, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    The Oatmeal is a pretty nifty site. I especially enjoyed the comic titled “You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you”, which everyone should read. It is about the backfire effect.

    • Gary Radice
      Posted November 26, 2018 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been watching NASA’s TV channel all morning. I think they do a great job with interviews and graphics.
      One fun fact: the seismometer is sensitive enough to detect deflections on the order of the diameter of a hydrogen atom. It will be able to detect the deflection of the surface of the planet when atmospheric pressure changes, and when one of the moons passes over.

  7. mikeyc
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Touchdown confirmed!

  8. Mark R.
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I read in the LA Times yesterday that NASA had another mission in 1999 where they were planning to drill into the Martian surface. It was “Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2” and both were lost upon arrival. So this is NASA’s second attempt. I hope it works! Many of the same people who worked on the 1999 mission worked on this one.

  9. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    They are landed. Even covering this on CNN.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 26, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      I watched the NASA feed. Very exciting. Each thing that was supposed to happen happened right on time. They called out the altitudes during decent: 200 meters… 100 meters…30 meters…touchdown! And the room, with all it’s red shirted engineering staff, went bonkers.

  10. grasshopper
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    A prior Mars module failed when different contractors for NASA mixed up imperial measurements with metric units, and the and the oversight team didn’t pick up the discrepancy. This time a safe landing has been made, and we can thank whole team for sticking to the cubit system, which I think includes a lot of talents.

    And I think the mole is most likely Marsupial.

  11. Posted November 29, 2018 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Guys, I don’t buy it. All the videos (live and otherwise) only had CGI-created photos and videos. All we saw was a roomful of hopeful-the-excited people wearing red shirts. It’s still two days later and there’s nothing to show for it. How do you explain this photo of a suited astronaut of unknown description repairing the Viking Explorer? You can’t suggest that this was a training mission since it was supposedly unmanned. And you can’t suggest that we also sent people with Viking to Mars since that would have been actually interesting. So explain the spacesuit. NASA lies. Everybody knows this.

    • Posted November 29, 2018 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      I’m putting this up just so you know about all the loons out there. I suppose this guy think that 9/11 was caused by the Jews, too.

      Bye, outsourced guru!

    • Posted November 29, 2018 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      “Outsourced thinking” might have been a better handle.

      • rickflick
        Posted November 29, 2018 at 11:15 pm | Permalink


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