NASA Is Landing on Mars Today. Here's How to Watch It Live.
Don't be desensitized. The proper response every time we put something on Mars should be, "Holy shit." It's happening again on Monday, and NASA is going to let you watch the much-anticipated landing live.
NASA's Mars InSight lander will set its mechanical feet on the red planet around 3pm EST on November 26 (InSight is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport). The agency will stream the lander's touch down for people to watch all around the world. Here's everything you need to know.
What Is the Mars InSight lander?
Launched on May 5, 2018, InSight could be the US space agency's first landing on Mars since Curiosity touched down in 2012. The lander is on a two-year mission to study the planet's seismology and internal heat, hoping to better understand the formation of the planet, as well as other planets in the solar system including Earth.
The lander will be followed to the fourth planet from the Sun by two CubeSats, small spacecraft that could prove the usefulness of these relatively cheap satellites for deep-space exploration. The two small crafts are jointly referred to as Mars Cube One or MarCO. As it approaches Mars, it will, hopefully, relay data from InSight before it enters Mars' atmosphere and lands.
While other NASA crafts have landed on parts of Mars that would be suitable for a Hollywood film about the planet with canyons and volcanos, InSight will land at Elysium Planitia, a vast plain. NASA has said it's basically "a stadium parking lot."
It's valuable scientifically, but InSight's principal investigator Bruce Banerdt said, "If Elysium Planitia were a salad, it would consist of romaine lettuce and kale -- no dressing. If it were an ice cream, it would be vanilla."
When Is InSight Landing on Mars?
The spacecraft's seven-month trek to the red planet ends on November 26. The stream will be broadcast at 3pm EST, but interplanetary communication is complicated and not instantaneous. The time it takes for a signal to travel from Mars to Earth and back to Mars can be anywhere from four to 24 minutes.
A lot of things need to go well for NASA to complete its eighth successful Mars landing. The expectation is that InSight will hit the top of the Martian atmosphere at 2:47pm. That's about 70 miles above the surface. About three minutes after that, as the spacecraft's heat shield heats to more than 1,500 degrees Celsius, a parachute will deploy and InSight will begin looking for the ground with radar so it knows how far up in the air it is.
Three minutes later, InSight's will separate from its back shell and the craft will fire retro rockets to bring it down to the ground about one minute later. Those rockets must instantly shut off when it touches down. Engineers monitoring the situation from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) control room will be somewhat helpless during this seven-minute time frame. They will be unable to steer the craft as it descends because of the communication delay between planets.
How to Watch the InSight Landing on Mars
InSight's landing will stream on NASA TV, the agency's website, and social media channels. Beginning at 2pm EST on November 26, there will be landing commentary on the NASA TV Public channel. That runs until 3:30pm. Just under the video, you can click the "Media" tab to instead watch "an uninterrupted clean feed of cameras" positioned inside the JPL mission control.
The touchdown is expected to happen at 3pm, one hour into the stream. Additionally, if you're having a good time and want to know more, there will be a post-landing news conference at 5pm on that same channel.
Since seeing InSight land is a pretty incredible moment, there will be many public viewing parties around the world. Here are a few of the places hosting parties. Any location marked with an asterisk (*) will have NASA representatives present.
Chantilly, Virginia: Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum*
Chicago: Adler Planetarium
Denver: Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Houston: Space Center Houston*
Huntsville, Alabama: U.S. Space and Rocket Center*
Los Angeles: California Science Center*, Felipe de Neve Branch Library, Junipero Serra Branch Library, The Los Angeles Central Library, Valley Plaza Branch Library, Vernon Branch Library
Milwaukee: UWM Manfred Olson Planetarium
New York City: Times Square*; American Museum of Natural History; Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Portland, Oregon: Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Salt Lake City: The Leonardo, University of Utah
Seattle: The Museum of Flight, Pacific Science Center
Washington, DC: NASA Headquarters
Be sure to take some time, even if you're at work and can swing it, to watch the stream. It's an incredible thing to have the opportunity to watch. InSight is going to land on Mars! Holy shit!